Posted: 3 p.m.
HallIn an NFL minicamp, the best surprises are no surprises.
Which brings us to one Leon Lastarza Hall, the Bengals No. 1 draft pick.
No surprises and, it seems, no trash pickup on his days at the corner.
Even when T.J. Houshmandzadeh threw down the garbage gauntlet at last weekend's minicamp.
"There's a lot of chirping and trash-talking and he lets his actions speak; I kind of like that," says secondary coach Kevin Coyle. "He just does his job, runs back to the huddle, and maybe makes people more frustrated that he's not talking about it."
Since they can only hit with words and not pads in the spring, there's a good amount of talking, led by that Pro Bowl trash compacter Chad Johnson, also known as a pretty good wide receiver. Johnson even gets on Coyle at times, yammering about which cornerback he wants in the drills.
Usually the defensive coaches wave Johnson away like a gnat on the porch, but every once in awhile they listen. Last Saturday morning Coyle said Houshmandzadeh approached him before practice and said he wanted "No. 29."
It turned out they were on opposite sides when the one-on-one drills started. But then things were arranged and Houshmandzadeh had three shots at Hall.
"I would say (Hall) performed quite favorably," Coyle said.
Hall intercepted an out pattern, went stride-for-stride and stayed inside Houshmandzadeh on a go pattern before knocking it away, and then in what may have been his most impressive stop he didn't get fooled on one of Houshmandzadeh's patented slant-and-gos in the red zone and stayed on his shoulder as the ball sailed incomplete.
Of course, Houshmandzadeh made some plays against Hall, too, in his only on-field action with the team this spring. A 90-catch guy is a 90-catch guy. But it was a nice sequence for a rookie.
"I don't know if I've seen a young player better fundamentally than he is right now coming in," Coyle said. "Footwork, technique, very well schooled. They did a great job with him at Michigan. And he doesn't back down. He likes the challenge. The thing about him is his poise and confidence."
Hall had a bit of a challenge this past week in the voluntary camp when Johnathan Joseph's foot injury put him with the first defense, but he felt it didn't make much of a difference because he had been going against Johnson and Chris Henry in the previous 11 workouts.
When the Bengals have their last voluntary work before training camp during this upcoming week, he and Keiwan Ratliff may well be the first-team corners again. Joseph and Deltha O'Neal, the presumed starters, figure to be ready for the first training camp practice, or in Joseph's case, pretty close. Hall is the leading candidate to be the nickel corner even though Ratliff is playing the best ball of his four NFL seasons.
"It's the cliché," said Hall, when asked the difference he's noticed with the pros the past month. "The speed and athleticism is on a much higher level. Chad and T.J. (the starters) are easily two of the best receivers I've ever gone against."
Johnson has been saying since the draft that he wanted a piece of No. 29, too. Hall gladly gives it.
"It can only make me better going against him," Hall said. "He's the best at what he does in the league. I'm a rookie. I've got to learn. The speed and the athleticism is the biggest thing."
Hall pretty much notes what Johnson does rather than what he says because the teaching points "are not verbally," he says.
"Every once in a while he'll say something," Hall said. "He'll do a double move or something like that and he'll say, 'Don't do that.' We'll talk back and forth, but nothing real specific."
Coyle can get real specific when it comes to Hall. Talk about truth in advertising. Asked if there's one thing he has seen the past month he didn't know he was getting in Hall, Coyle shook his head.
"That's what happens when you're one of the top corners in the draft," he said. "It's all there."
The mark on Hall had been his speed after bloody jousts with Ohio State's Ted Ginn. Jr., and USC's Dwayne Jarrett. Now, more than ever, Coyle thinks that was off.
"I don't think it was a speed thing," Coyle said. "It was decision-making, not making a quick enough decision when to turn and run. He's fast enough. He'll be able to run with the best receivers we face."
Now after sessions trading moves with Johnson, Houshmandzadeh and Henry, who ran by NFL defenders for 25 touchdowns last season, he has emerged as advertised.
"It was never an issue with me, anyway," said Hall, leaving the trash at the curb.