ALAMEDA – P.J. Hall was a small-school wonder turning pro out of Sam Houston State. The defensive tackle filled up the stat sheet with the Bearkats, totaling 60 tackles, including 19 for a loss, six sacks, six passes defensed and, wait for it…14 blocked kicks. All that as a senior.
He blew scouts away on his pro day, impressing the Raiders enough to select him in the second round. There are always questions about how an FCS player will perform at the NFL level, without the seasoning that comes from playing in a power 5 conference.
Hall’s draft slot and his underdog small-school status put some pressure on him to prove his worth early on, and it weighed on him more than expected.
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“I did feel pressure to live up to my status as a second-round pick,” Hall said. “I was trying to do too much at first. I had a talk with my coaches, and they said to calm down and play my game. From then, that’s when things started to slow down and started to click.”
Hall has improved some down the stretch, but hasn’t been the dominant force he’d like at this stage. He can get there, but has work to do to reach his potential and be a more dominant force.
Let’s put Hall under this week’s rookie spotlight and analyze what he has done, and where he needs to improve.
Position: Defensive tackle
Draft slot: No. 57 overall (second round)
School: San Houston State
Height/weight: 6-foot-1, 308 pounds
Stats: 21 tackles (including 11 run stops), 9 passes defensed, 3 passes defensed
Raw tools: Hall is a bowling ball at 6-1 and 308, with a low center of gravity that can push the pocket straight back with proper leverage. He isn’t tall, but has an uncanny ability to bat passes and block kicks. He can bend and contort to get through the line to make tackles for loss.
Oh, and he’s super strong. He benched 225 pounds 36 times at his pro day and squatted 700 pounds.
Early returns: Hall has been given solid grades in run defense. He has been solid slowing rushers at the point of attack, but he hasn’t generate much direct heat on the quarterback despite playing 58 percent of his snaps on passing downs.
Some progress was slowed by injury. He spent the first few days of training camp on PUP with a pectoral injury, and missed several early games dealing with an ankle sprain that produced some slow periods of his development.
“You have to take it day by day and understand that, while you’re going to be behind, you’re not going to be behind forever,” Hall said. “You have to listen to coaching and trust they’re going to put you in the right spots to succeed.”
Where Hall has improved: As he mentioned in the preamble, Hall entered his rookie season a little tense. Once coaches told him to relax a little and play his game with technique his trusts, Hall was able to relax and produce more than before.
His best game was his last, showing improvement as the season has worn on.
What’s next: Hall’s nearing the end of his rookie season, and he’s looking forward to an offseason where he doesn’t have to impress scouts trying to get drafted. He’s going to take a brief respite before training hard throughout the winter. That will include a stop with a vaunted pass-rush specialist.
“My agent wants me to go down to Atlanta with Chuck Smith,” Hall said. “We’re really excited about that. He has worked with some of the greats, and I’m looking forward to adding some of his ideas to my game.”
Quotable: “I felt like I’ve gotten better each week after getting healthy from the injuries that held me back early in the season. I’m starting to play better. I’m starting to get my confidence back and I’m realizing that I can play in this league.” – P.J. Hall