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Pardon the interceptions

Posted: 8:30 p.m.

If they had an AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year, his four interceptions may have got cornerback Leon Hall in the discussion. At least for some all-rookie teams with his team-best four picks that lead all NFL rookies and facing a test as big as the Arizona receivers.

They only give out one Defensive Rookie of the Year for the entire league and 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, the NFL's leading tackler, has a lock on that.

But with Texans tackle Amobi Okoye cooling off after getting four his five sacks in the first four games and Hall doubling the picks of Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (1) and Browns cornerback Eric Wright (1), he holds up pretty well in an AFC survey despite some horrendous moments. The other name that gets mentioned prominently is Colts tackle Ed Johnson, a free agent out of Penn State, and Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley shouldn't be forgotten with three sacks.

And, maybe it's time to also start talking about Hall's teammate Chinedum Ndukwe, the only AFC rookie with at least two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble, for some national play among leading rookie defenders.

"I'm not downplaying the problems he's had," said secondary coach Kevin Coyle of Hall's many struggles. "But I don't think there's any weekend you can't turn on SportsCenter on a Sunday night without seeing bombs going off, double moves, missed tackles, or great catches by receivers.

"As he gets more opportunities, he's making a lot of plays," he said.



It looks like the opportunities have arrived. This is about the time last season No. 1 pick Johnathan Joseph became a starting corner and with Hall getting the nod last week in Baltimore it looks like his time is now with Deltha O'Neal dinged and Marvin Lewis' emphasis on physical play at an all-time high.

Coyle is going to be relieved if Hall is still in the top rookies discussion Sunday night after the Cardinals' talented and physical big receivers get through with him. If Hall keeps progressing like he has the past two weeks, Coyle believes he'll end the season in such talks.

Coyle spent Thursday showing his players horror films of 6-3, 226-pound Larry Fitzgerald vaulting a la Randy Moss and sky-stealing passes despite blanket coverage. Plus, there's 6-1, 217-pound Anquan Boldin bludgeoning yards after catch.

"They run after the ball very well," Hall said. "It's a reason they're a big three-step (drop) team. They like to get the ball to the receivers in space. We have to clamp down on them and keep the yards after catch to a minimum."

Hall most likely draws Boldin in the slot in three-receiver sets. But if he follows true to form in this week of Moss-like references, Hall won't let Fitzgerald, Boldin, and 6-3, 215-pound Bryant Johnson do to him what Moss did on national TV Oct. 1.

With a blitz on in the red zone and no help behind him, Hall tried to jam Moss at the line at the last instant. After Tom Brady's eyes lit up like a slot machine, it was a deadly quick 14-yard touchdown pass.

But this is why the Bengals are encouraged by Hall even though STATS Inc. says he has allowed seven touchdown passes in his first nine games. It's a number they dispute. The stat is more like five, still too many, but with signs of improvement.

"If you don't know the coverage called and/or the responsibilities, it's unfair to the player and inaccurate," Coyle said. "No question he's been beat. We all know that. But the thing that I'm watching that I like is that he doesn't keep getting beat by the same plays. He learns and that's why we drafted hm. He's bright, he cares, he studies."

With seven games left, Hall is already one pick away from tying the team's rookie interceptions record set by safety Tommy Casanova in 1972 and matched by cornerback Ray Horton in 1983 and middle linebacker Odell Thurman in 2005. His eight passes defensed trail only O'Neal's dozen on the Bengals.

Sunday's end-zone interception off safety Dexter Jackson's tip was pure hustle and hands. But his end-zone pass defensed against the Jets' Laveranues Coles out of the slot that forced a field goal was pure film reinforcement after Joe Jurevicius beat him on a similar play out of the slot in Cleveland for a touchdown.

Hall's interception against wide receiver Lee Evans when he didn't bite on the second of a double move in Buffalo came in response to the divisional double-move touchdowns he allowed to Braylon Edwards in Cleveland and the Steelers' Hines Ward.

"You learn as you go. You don't want to make the same mistake more than once. You just have to learn from it. In my situation I got beat by a double move and you don't want that to happen again," Hall said. "You have to look for it.

"With every game, with every rep, the more experience I get, the game gets that much slower, and I continue to get a lot more comfortable out there. How to evaluate offenses and stuff like that."

How do you evaluate Hall against the rest?

Stats Inc. says Wright has surrendered four touchdowns and Revis one. Hall has the eight passes defensed and 36 tackles in three starts. Wright has a team-high 68 tackles, as well as eight passes defensed in nine starts. Revis has 57 tackles and 10 passes defensed in nine starts.

But Hall's four picks not only lead all rookies, he's only two behind NFL leader Antonio Cromartie of San Diego and one behind Washington's Sean Taylor, Baltimore's Ed Reed and Dallas' Anthony Henry.

Henry is one of only three rookies to log double-digit interceptions since the 1970 merger. He had 10 for the 2001 Browns, as did Mark Carrier of the 1990 Bears. Everson Walls of the 1981 Cowboys had 11.

"It's always good to get interceptions, obviously," Hall said. "Every cornerback wants to lead the league or lead the team. But, really, that's just one or two big plays out of the whole game. You just got to keep working. I'm pretty much rep by rep evaluating myself."

Arizona's Big Three will give him a lot to grade Monday.

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