Wednesday, September 21, 2011

DeAngelo Hall, physical football player

Remember when DeAngelo Hall was afraid to hit?

In 2009 (when I first started this blog), I found him to be a confusing player. I was well aware of his reputation, of course, and most of the time he truly did seem to shy away from contact. The notorious game-conceding non-tackle on Jake Delhomme - who is not exactly Mike Vick, I might add - cemented his image with Redskins fans as a soft player. And yet, about once per game, he would stick his nose into traffic and make a physical play. Just as I would start to get impressed, he would go back to dodging ball carriers.

As late as the 2010 preseason, Jets coach Rex Ryan was incorporating Hall's history of poor (or lack of) tackling into sideline trash talk.

But something odd happened during the 2010 regular season.

In the game reviews I kept on noticing DeAngelo hurling himself at lead blockers and redirecting run plays back inside to traffic. This is nothing minor - defeating the lead blocker is often more important to the success of run defense than making the tackle. And given the lack of statistical recognition or even credit from the media, it requires either a selfless commitment to team success, a simple love of hitting, or both.

And he started making tackles too. The form wasn't always good; he was more of a hitter than a tackler. But the lack of hesitation was striking. I thought I might be seeing a few fluky plays like the once-per-week toughness that had shown up the previous season, but over time it became clear that this was a new DeAngelo Hall.

This year, I am happy to see, the trend has continued. He can still blow up a fullback with the best of them. And better yet, he has progressed from a mere willingness to tackle to actually doing it well at times. On more than one occasion in the Arizona game he made a perfect open field tackle on Larry Fitzgerald to prevent what would have been a major gain.

It would make sense if he had a flaw as a rookie and then got his act together while still young and learning how to play at the professional level. But he was six years into his NFL career before totally reversing what had been one of his defining characteristics as a player. And not for nothing, after landing huge contracts from the Raiders and the Redskins financial security presumably wasn't a big motivation. It's as if he just decided to get better.

Now I don't mean to gush here, but I think it's very hard to exaggerate how dramatically DeAngelo Hall has reinvented himself as a player. And there's no denying that the Redskins defense is significantly improved because of it.

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