Posted: 10:30 p.m.
Leon Hall, an All-American at three positions in high school and a consensus college All-American, is on foreign soil these days.
He is giving up touchdowns instead of testimonials. And with the 85-yard smoke still steaming from the Bills' Lee Evans, the territory only gets more hostile this Sunday in Buffalo.
Hall's rookie struggles mirror the ups and downs of a secondary giving up at least one big play and/or touchdown per game and is under intense scrutiny against quarterback J.P. Losman's long ball.
"Early on, especially my freshman year, I struggled a little bit learning technique and getting familiar with the defense," Hall said of the Michigan days this week. "Nothing's really been quite like this."
It's hard to come down just on Hall. Not when the Bengals have allowed 34 plays of plus 20 yards (tied for third most in the league) and have allowed six plays of plus 40.
HallYet he is supposed to be this year's steel-belted-technically-sound-FDA-approved-first-round draft pick. When the Steelers' Santonio Holmes raced by Hall for a 42-yard bomb down the middle, and on the next play Hines Ward smoked him to the corner for the 21-yard touchdown that put Pittsburgh ahead for good, people got a little more anxious.
"He's going through life in the NFL as a corner. Just keep doing things the right way. Just keep playing proper technique," said head coach Marvin Lewis, who could have been speaking to his entire secondary. "Get your eyes where they belong, and keep them there. Believe in what you're supposed to do. Leon will be fine. It's been a tough baptism at times, but he's getting a chance to do it instead of watching someone else. I think it's a great chance to have."
The people watching the Bengals on tape and the people coaching him are counting on his intelligence, character and toughness to subdue the rookie blues.
Hall probably forgot about that consecutive snap sequence quicker than you did.
"You have to," Hall said. "That's the nature of the game. Everyone wants to go out there and be perfect, but no one is perfect and so you have to forget about it and move on."
Both completions came on the dreaded double move, the NFL rookie cornerback equivalent of double secret probation.
Hall got beat by the two classic double moves.
Holmes beat him with the stutter step on a stop and go. The receiver takes off and then breaks down as if to stop. Once he gets the DB to hesitate, he starts running again.
Ward beat him on the other old standby. The receiver goes down the middle 10 to 12 yards, then breaks sharply to the post. If the DB reacts and goes to the middle of the field, the receiver sticks his foot in the ground and goes back to the corner with the hope that the corner has over reacted to the initial move to the post. The quarterback can help, as the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger did, with a pump fake.
"The double move can only work if the quarterback has time because it takes time to develop," says a former NFL assistant coach that worked outside the Bengals division. "I don't care if Champ Bailey is at corner. If the quarterback has time to throw, an NFL passer and receiver are going to win that almost every time. But a pass rush also needs coverage. It goes hand in hand. You can't blame one. Leon Hall is anxious to do well and that's going to happen to a young corner. He's very talented and just needs experience."
Hall says his mistakes have come playing outside of the defensive scheme in an effort to make a big play. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan's advice to Hall could have been ticketed to the other DBs, too.
"This is a very mature young man," Bresnahan said. "He's frustrated, but he's not panicked. He just has to use the fundamentals that he used in college, during the offseason, and preseason. He needs to just settle down and not worry about making the big play. Get back to the fundamentals and believe in the things you've been doing."
Bresnahan has already seen this in Oakland during his years with Charles Woodson, now one of the league's top cornerbacks in Green Bay.
"He was still known in his fourth or fifth year as a guy that got caught up in double moves because he wanted to make every play," Bresnahan said. "It's not just Charles Woodson. It's every young corner."
Evans is most likely going to be matched up with cornerbacks Deltha O'Neal and Johnathan Joseph on the outside while Hall deals in the slot with the 5-9,168-pound slippery and speedy Roscoe Parrish, the NFL's punt return leader.
But Hall could see him at some point and he tips his hat to Evans' first move of the double move that he calls explosive, and while Hall believes Ward's speed is underrated he says Evans is much faster.
"Next to Randy Moss he's the most dangerous receiver we've seen this year," said secondary coach Kevin Coyle of Evans. "It's his quickness."
Bresnahan says if the Steelers double moved Hall, wait until the Bills line up with Evans and J.P. Losman as his quarterback.
"Evans is a double-move guy and they're a double-move team," Bresnahan said.
Evans is on more tape than Larry Craig.
The Bengals just have to rewind to last week and there Evans is catching an 85-yard touchdown with 3:38 left in a 13-3 victory over the Jets.
Rewind to just last year and there he is against Houston becoming the first receiver in NFL history to catch a pair of 80-yard throws in the same quarter.
Rewind to just the last time the Bills played Cincinnati—Christmas Eve '05—and there is Evans double-moving past cornerback Tory James and free safety Kevin Kaesviharn for a 65-yard pass on the Bills' first offensive snap that set up a field goal and the tone for the Bills' 37-27 upset at Paul Brown Stadium.
James and Kaesviharn are gone. So is the guy that threw it, Kelly Holcomb.
"Different coordinator, but same approach," Bresnahan said. "They're going to take their shots." P>Although Losman lost his job to rookie Trent Edwards, he's back this week in a flick of Edwards' injured wrist and he likes to go deep.
Last week's pitch-and-catch with Evans was only the Bills' second touchdown pass of the season. Yet Losman threw four passes of 50-plus yards last season, only one behind Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, and he threw 13 touchdown passes in his final seven games last season.
Parrish is looking for his first plus 20-yard catch this season after grabbing touchdowns of 44 and 51 yards last year.
"It's going to be another good test for me," Hall said. "Today we had a good day on defense. We're trying to get better on technique and tackling. We've had some issues there. We just have to keep confident and keep playing."
O'Neal, the team's veteran corner who has probably been its most productive DB, has been encouraged by Hall's short-term memory loss.
"Leon is good people," O'Neal said. "He does a good job of putting plays behind him."
Coyle and the Bengals are convinced that Hall's not getting beat physically.
"On both of those plays (against Pittsburgh) he had really good position as the route started to break down he got caught trying to make the big play," Coyle said. "Instead of making sure that he kept good position, he got himself in trouble. He has to play smarter, he has to play better."
Hall is certainly smart enough to know that.
"You're learning about them," said Hall after Sunday's game when asked if it takes time to get to know the receivers. "But that's no excuse. You have to learn while you're out there. You've got no choice."