Leon Hall performed some more of his magic Thursday when he took the first snap of training camp.
It is now to the point where even those hard-to-awe pros are amazed at what Bengals cornerback Leon Hall has done for the second time in three seasons.
"That dude never ceases to amaze me and it doesn't matter what it is he does," said cornerback Terence Newman, one of the 1,200 or so witnesses that on Thursday saw Hall reach his goal by taking the first snap of training camp despite another Achilles operation. "If we go out and play golf, look at his swing. When I first got here in April he's out here working out. I'm like, 'I thought he tore his Achilles.' He didn't look like he tore his Achilles four months before. It's just amazing."
Before he went out there Thursday morning, Hall did what he always does and froze the butterflies with his technician's mindset that makes him one of the more fundamentally sound cornerbacks in the NFL. Faced with the three-time Pro Bowl speed and length of wide receiver A.J. Green on one of those dreaded Go balls, Hall knew he had already put in the work.
"I'm not really nervous. I'm confident my Achilles is where I want it to be, where it should be at this point. It's not really nerves," Hall said. "I feel like if there is any kind of mess up it would be more of a technique issue, which is something I like to work on from day one and going forward."
As it turned out, Hall got Green on one of those deep routes during the first half of practice and he came out of it smiling even though, as he predicted, the footwork wasn't pretty. He couldn't plant and drive as well as he will, but he could turn and run and that's what counted on Day One.
"They didn't throw it. It felt good. It felt normal," Hall said. "I think it worked out well. A couple of those breaks were dicey. It went well. I'm happy."
No tweaks. No pain. No scares. The only thing he got out of it was a blister on his heel, a fleeting mark of the blood, sweat, and tears he and director of rehab Nick Cosgray put into the comeback effort when they repaired his right Achilles shortly after he tore it Oct. 20 in Detroit.
After practice Newman picked up four-year-old Leon Hall Jr. and turned him upside down amid some screeches. When Junior got his chance, he saw Senior holding court with the media and after only a moment's hesitation he wrapped his arms around him. His daddy is turning the training world upside down without the screeches.
Cosgray had to admit walking off the field Thursday was also an emotional moment for him.
"All these guys work so hard. Every day," Cosgray says. "You see how hard it is and how much it means to them and I just feel happy for them."
For Hall and Cosgray, they hope this is déjà vu because when they did this in 2012 on his left Achilles, Hall made it back for the first snap and went on to have a year that probably should have put him in the Pro Bowl.
"There was never really a doubt in my mind. It was just trying to be patient enough to go through that long process again," Hall said of 2014. "The long days of (repetitive) calf raises, every day of coming in and seeing Nick in the morning, being with him for hours day after day, not letting it get to me and mentally staying into it. I knew the physical part of it as far as my strength and running would come in time. "
Hall and Cosgray have become tight and have bonded through muscle and music. One of the tortures was the calf raises. Try a super set of 300 of them. They tried to offset the grind of the winter with daily selections, like Motown Mondays and Throwback Thursdays.
"I like to give every musical genre a chance," Hall said. "He's opened my eyes to Pearl Jam and I listen to more alternative music now."
But the big thing is that Hall opened his mind to a second rehab. He realized it wouldn't repeat itself on its own.
"Mentally it was easier the second time. Not even close. I mean, the first time going into it my goal was to come back for training camp and I felt I could achieve that goal but obviously I was going into it blind," Hall said. "I didn't know what to expect, I didn't know what to do as opposed to the second time. I was able to realize the steps that it took to get back, what I did need to do, what I needed to do better or what I did not need to as much of. It was good having that kind of knowledge going into the second one."
Newman saw defensive end Greg Ellis come back from the same injury in Dallas once and now he has seen Hall do it twice.
"It's one of the toughest things to do. When I was in Dallas I had Greg Ellis who tore his Achilles he said it's one of the toughest things to deal with. I think him and Nick have probably pioneered the rehab," Newman said. "I know when I was rehabbing (knee) I would just look at him and watch the way he works. It made me want to work harder. I couldn't do anything as far as having it heal, but hopefully it worked quicker."
Green has been learning from Hall ever since he came into the NFL in 2011 and not just through watching him rehab. He's had to go against him most days and he happily went against him Thursday.
"He looks like he's ready to go," Green said after practice. "That's the one guy I like, man. You can never tell the guy is hurting. He looked good coming in and out of breaks. Tough, but the guy Leon, he's the guy for the job. He takes care of his body like no other.
"Leon got me to this level. I remember coming in as a rookie before I got drafted working out at API and Leon coming in the way he works. Then I got drafted by them and working with him my whole rookie training camp, it definitely made me a better player."
One questioner got a little overzealous, wondering if Thursday was Hall's Super Bowl.
"I wouldn't say that. It's not do or die," Hall said. "Today is just another step for me. Whether I'm going against our No. 1 guy or No. 5 guy, going against someone other than Nick is good for my rehab, because it's still a process."
Head coach Marvin Lewis swears Hall ran faster following his 2012 rehab. After he bolted through Wednesday's 40-yard dashes of the conditioning test to get cleared for Thursday, he's not sure if lightning struck twice. They didn't time them.
"I don't know. I don't have any numbers to say that that's true but I feel like I felt years ago before I did the first one," Hall said. "I've heard numerous times that your Achilles is technically stronger after you have the surgery. I wouldn't suggest going and tearing your Achilles but that's just what I heard from the docs and people in general. That's good news. I feel better."
And all is well in Bengaldom.