In Sanjay Lal, Seahawks’ DK Metcalf has perfect ally in quest to be NFL’s best receiver – The Seattle Times

RENTON — They share the same goal and a mutual respect for one another. That doesn’t mean DK Metcalf and Sanjay Lal always share the same point of view.
Metcalf, the Seahawks star wide receiver, can be prideful and stubborn.
Lal, the Seahawks receivers coach, can be blunt and demanding.
“So there are times where you can see what that could lead to,” Lal said.
Even when they disagree, Lal said they always find a way to circle back to the one thing that bonds them together: their drive to maximize Metcalf’s massive talent and make him the best receiver in the NFL.
“He wants me to be great and he holds me to that standard,” Metcalf said. “And that’s why I have so much respect for him.”
In 2020, Metcalf’s most productive NFL season coincided with Lal’s first year on Seattle’s staff. They grew close that season, and Metcalf finished with 10 touchdowns on 83 receptions and a franchise-record 1,303 yards, earning his first Pro Bowl nod and second-team All Pro recognition.
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The 2021 season was frustrating for both Metcalf and Lal.
Lal took a job as the receivers coach on Urban Meyer’s staff in Jacksonville. The Jaguars went 3-14, and Meyer was fired late in a tumultuous season.
Metcalf suffered a foot injury in late September and played through the injury for the rest of the season. His production declined, with 75 catches for 967 yards and a career-low 12.9-yards-per catch (though he did still post a career-best 12 TDs).
Lal kept close tabs on Metcalf. He watched just about every Seahawks game last season, and they talked regularly — usually once a week, Metcalf said.
This past offseason, Lal jumped at the chance to return to Seattle as the receivers coach. No one was happier about that than Metcalf.
“I sink my heart and soul into helping him become what he can be,” Lal said. “He has such a high ceiling, you just don’t know where he can go.”
This is Lal’s third stop back in Seattle, and he says it feels like coming home.
Born in London, Lal grew up living in all parts of the world — from the UK to the Middle East to Mexico — because of his father’s job as a systems analyst for multinational corporations. It wasn’t until the family moved to Plano, Texas, that Lal was introduced to football. He was hooked immediately.
In college, he first came here in 1990 as a 21-year-old walk-on receiver during the height of Don James’ run at the University of Washington. It was a transformational experience for Lal.
“I didn’t play as much as I would have liked. I couldn’t stay healthy,” he said. “But the competitive nature of it was off the charts. Don James was a big influence. That was a hard-ass program. If you survived it, you actually became really tough. The offseason program there was really hard and really demanding — it wasn’t politically correct back then. You just had to have tough skin and be physically tough to play, and that molded me a lot.”
Lal, 53, has had a vagabond coaching career, too, with a dozen different jobs at 11 stops from high school and college to the NFL over the past 20 years.
Metcalf, he says, is the best student he’s ever coached.
“He was an open book,” Lal said, reflecting on the 2020 season with Metcalf. “He assimilates coaching probably better than anyone I’ve ever been around. As a coach, you’re like, ‘OK, wow, I can show him this, then work it and then he actually does it [in a game] — and he’s really good.’ So that brought a smile to my face.”
As an example, Lal pointed to Metcalf’s touchdown reception against New England in Week 2 of the 2020 season. Metcalf lined up in the slot opposite Stephon Gilmore, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, and ran a “V” route that ended in an over-the-shoulder, 54-yard touchdown.
“We’ve got [film of] walk-through reps of him running it exactly like that,” Lal said. “He had to get a yard inside the hash. He had to get his eyes back for a count, otherwise Stephon would not undercut him. It’s very rare for a receiver under duress, under the lights, to go do that in a game and he did it perfectly. … Had it been one yard off, that play wouldn’t have worked. Even with all that precision, it was still a bang-bang play downfield. He’s the best I’ve seen at that.”
In training camp this summer, Lal has worked with Metcalf to get back to that precise route-running, making sure Metcalf is staying low in his stance and releasing off the line of scrimmage like a sprinter out of the blocks.
Metcalf, who signed a three-year, $72 million contract extension in July, says he wants to continue to be pushed.
“It means a lot getting Sanjay back. We’ve been close,” Metcalf said. “He doesn’t raise his voice or yell. He’ll just pull you to the side one-on-on and have those real conversations that a lot of people are scared to have.”
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