The Dallas Cowboys had a lot of things go wrong in 2017 and inadequate coaching was a part of that. The brain-trust at The Star did not believe that change at the top was necessary as head coach Jason Garrett was given another year, as well was both coordinators Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli.
But the organization still addressed the coaching issues in a big way by essentially cleaning house with their assistant coaches. All in all, eight position coaches were replaced. Three of them were replaced by promoting people within the organization - Kellen Moore (quarterbacks coach), Ben Bloom (linebackers coach), and Keith O’Quinn (special teams coordinator) moved up the ladder. The Cowboys went outside the organization for five of their new coaches - Kris Richard (defensive backs/passing game coordinator), Sanjay Lal (wide receivers coach), Paul Alexander (offensive line coach), Doug Nussmeier (tight end), and Doug Colman (assistant special teams coach).
Of all the coaching changes the team has made, none of them has created more of a buzz than the acquisition of Kris Richard and Sanjay Lal. It’s really early, but the effects from their teachings are already having a big impact on the field.
The Cowboys new defensive backs coach is right in the middle of things during camp practice. Literally. He’s got his cleats on and he’s physically playing defense during drills. See for yourself.
Kris Richard held up this drill, ran in, and covered Geoff Swaim himself. To say he’s got energy would be the understatement of training camp. pic.twitter.com/9cqHFexkmy— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) August 1, 2018
This hands-on coach is all over the place on the practice field and has raised the intensity level of practice. Garrett preaches about how he loves to have the juice flowing in practice and Richard provides enough to give the unit a complete juice cleanse. And these nutrients are healthy for this young secondary and already it is producing dividends.
Byron Jones is wasting no time showing everyone that the change to cornerback was a smart move. He was one of the team’s standout performers over the first week of training camp. Jones is an athletic player and he has been showcasing his ability with ball-hawking picks and last-second pass breakups using his incredible leaping ability.
And Chidobe Awuzie looks like he’s going to be the star of week number two of training camp practice. The second-year corner exhibited great closing burst on Tuesday when he was breaking up passes. Every time the offense went after him, Awuzie made plays and they came up empty. Richard appreciates the athletic talent of Chido, but his smarts aren’t going unnoticed either. He may slip up, but he learns from it and isn’t a repeat offender.
Richard is an intense coach. He can be seen taunting the defense after an incomplete pass, yelling “who’s next” to the offense, challenging receivers to beat his young corners.
Kris Richard is awesome.— rabblerousr (@rabblerousr) August 1, 2018
That is all pic.twitter.com/kwU16psVMe
Richard is trying to make it as difficult on the offense as possible and one of his first messages for his young corners is the importance of jamming the receivers off the line of scrimmage. Things have gotten physical between the defensive backs group and the wide receiver group, but this competition is very healthy for this team.
There has been a lot of praise for the Cowboys new receivers coach. Whenever the receivers are being interviewed, we’re always hearing about how he’s the best WR coach they’ve ever had. It’s become a common theme. And one of the biggest reasons for all the praise has to do with how much attention to detail Lal has toward the fundamentals of receiving. He is very technique orientated and puts an emphasis on all the intricacies of being a good receiver. From things like proper form coming off the line of scrimmage to focusing on balance, the group is doing all types of new things to help improve their craft. He even has them carry bricks to help strengthen their grip.
The praise of Sanjay has stretched all over the receiving group. From incumbent veterans to newcomers, Lal has been a breath of fresh air to this cast of receivers. Cole Beasley, who had a down year last season, has found new life under Lal’s direction. What is he doing different now?
“Just really flying off the ball,” Beasley said. “I’ve been real patient at the line a lot in my career. And now there are things that I need to do to have change-ups, if you will, and different ways to come off the ball and attack.”
Beasley has not shied away from offering up his thoughts on the coaching change, saying that under Lal’s control is like the first time they’ve been taught to run routes. That’s disappointing and doesn’t reflect well on former wide receiver coach Derek Dooley, but it’s also encouraging when you see what Beasley is doing on the field. The Cowboys are using him more as an outside receiver and so far, nobody in camp has been able to stop him.
Newly acquired free agent Allen Hurns thinks highly of Sanjay and even identified him as part of the reason he choose to sign with Dallas.
Allen Hurns specifically named Cowboys receivers coach Sanjay Lal as part of why he ultimately chose Dallas. https://t.co/RhOVfK1SXs— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) April 4, 2018
And second-year UDFA long-shot WR Lance Lenoir had this to say about his new coach courtesy of an interview he had with our own RJ Ochoa.
Lenoir: Coach Sanjay is one of the best wide receivers coaches I’ve ever seen. He’s very detailed in route running, detailed on little things. He pays attention to very little things that you wouldn’t expect to pay attention to in the game of football. It’s like science, and he breaks it down to you, and it’s so understanding and it slows the game down for us. So for him, it’s a huge help having him.
There is still a lot of work to do, but Lal is confident that his unit will get where they need to be.
Cowboys WR coach Sanjay Lal on his position group: "They will be where they're supposed to be and they will run detailed, nice-looking routes. We're going to turn the tape on and be proud of what we put on tape. There's not many guarantees, but it's going to be that way."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) July 31, 2018
The addition of Richard and Lal has created a very scrappy battle between the defensive backs and the wide receivers, but the juice isn’t just flowing in the players. The coaches are getting into it as well.
Jourdan Lewis and Lance Lenoir have been going at it throughout camp.
Receivers coach Sanjay Lal tried to put the two on the field together on the final rep of the drills, prompting Richard to scream, “he don’t run our drills.”
And when linebacker Justin March-Lillard intercepted a pass in seven-on-seven, Richard ran the length of the field with him to the end zone as they ran through the pass rush drill between the offensive line and the defensive line.
He yelled, “(expletive) their drill!”
Jason Garrett talks so much about competition and now he has a couple position coaches committed to burying their opponent. Expect things to continue to heat up in camp as these guys challenge each other, but in the end - it’s going to be great for the Cowboys.
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