No veteran Redskin is looking forward to Saturday’s preseason game at Chicago more than DeAngelo Hall. The last time that Washington visited Soldier Field, Hall had a field day, tying the NFL record with four interceptions. The cornerback might well have secured his third Pro Bowl that day which he capped by returning his last pick of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler 92 yards for the decisive touchdown in a 17-14 Redskins victory.
“That was amazing, the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Hall, who’s tied for sixth among active players with 35 interceptions but has only had one other game with as many as two. “I could have made history and actually got five (interceptions). I dropped one.”
Hall just wishes that Saturday’s contest was a regular season game because it would matter. However, the truth is that Hall’s last regular season was indicative of Washington’s 5-11 record. Not only did the former Virginia Tech star slip from six picks to three and not find the end zone after also beating Dallas with a fumble return for a touchdown in the 2010 opener, his most memorable moments were negative ones.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant beat Hall for 30 yards on third-and-21 to set up the field goal that edged the Redskins with 1:57 left on “Monday Night Football” in Week 3. Hall blasted defensive coordinator Jim Haslett for an all-out blitz that left him singled up on Bryant. Player and coach soon settled the matter, but eight weeks later, Bryant beat Hall for 26 yards on third-and-15 to set up the field goal that gave the Cowboys a 27-24 overtime triumph. Washington’s sixth straight loss ended any chance it had of staying competitive in the NFC East.
While Hall didn’t totally buy into the idea that he needs to redeem himself in 2012, he said, “Do I want to go out and make more plays? Absolutely. Did I drop plays or did I not make plays I should have made? Yeah. The opportunities were there, but I just didn’t cash in on them.”
In hopes of helping Hall take advantage of those opportunities, Haslett has switched him on passing downs from the “island” covering a receiver virtually solo to the “slot” inside where there will be more traffic and a greater chance for a playmaker to do his thing.
“He has great ball skills,” Haslett explained. “He has a good knack of getting the ball and … stripping the ball.”
While some corners would’ve been insulted at being voted off the island, the always-candid Hall said, “I’m probably not a great corner, but I’m a great football player. To go in the slot gives me a chance to be a (complete) football player. You’ve got to tackle. You’ve got to pick passes off. You’ve got to be able to read routes. They’ve given me a lot of flexibility to just go out there and make plays.”
Washington’s secondary made way too few plays in 2011. Only 10 teams’ defensive backs picked off fewer passes than the Redskins’ 10. The secondary also only forced six fumbles. So preferred starting safeties LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atgowe exited and fellow veterans Tanard Jackson, Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams arrived. And welcome to the slot, DHall. His old spot on the island is supposed to go to free agent signee Cedric Griffin although holdovers Kevin Barnes and Brandyn Thompson and rookie Richard Crawford – who’s off to a strong start — are in the mix there, too.
Hall, who went to the NFC Championship Game as an Atlanta rookie in 2004 but hasn’t been back to the playoffs since, knows the onus is on the back end to hold up its, ahem, end for a defense that rose from 31st in yards allowed in 2010 to 13th last year. The formidable front seven returns intact.
“Last year, we were ranked in the top five (early on),” said Hall, who’s starting his ninth season although he won’t be 29 until November. “Then things started going downhill. The turnovers stopped coming. We stopped making plays. We stopped getting off the field on third downs. It was frustrating. To come off from 31st to 13th is a big jump and we feel like we’re poised for another big jump.”
If that’s going to happen, Hall will have to leap back into prominence, in a good way.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin