TJ Hall Jr. (DB, 6’2” 175, San Joaquin Memorial HS, CA)
In what turned out to be a fast-paced recruitment, TJ Hall Jr. is the latest Husky to join our 2022 class. The former Arizona commit is the first ‘22 DB to take the plunge, and once we extended the offer, it was only 72-hours before he decommitted from the Wildcats and announced his commitment to DBU. With so little time between the first news of his offer and his commitment, I’ve been scrambling to get info on Hall.
At first glance, its pretty easy to see why we’d have interest in Hall. Standing at a reported 6-2 and 175 lbs as a 2-way starter for San Joaquin Memorial HS (a well known Catholic football powerhouse in Fresno, CA), Hall seems to have a solid P5-type of background. Despite being a relatively low-ranked recruit according to the major recruiting services, I think Hall could end up being a 4-star recruit and a major coup by the end of the ‘22 recruiting cycle. While getting a DB to flip from Kevin Sumlin’s Arizona program isn’t all that newsworthy, the pedigree of the new staff (including Don Brown & Chuck Cecil) made me want to take a long look at Hall’s film to see what they might be keying in on.
Jumping into his junior tape, its obvious that Hall has a knack for finding the ball. On each of the first three plays we see Hall snag interceptions because of his ability to maintain coverage position while keeping an eye on the QB. The second play in particular is impressive because he was playing an inside-shade and forcing the outside release for the WR. By doing so, Hall had his back to the QB with no eyes on the ball until after the WR slammed on the breaks to make his cut and Hall had to flip his hips to make the play. This was a good example of relatively loose hips in transition and lightning-quick ball identification at the break.
The other two interceptions show a little more read-and-react that could translate to safety. In both cases, Hall keeps his eyes on the QB the whole time, he lets his eyes and feel for space keep him in coverage position, and when he sees the QB pull the trigger, he drives on the ball, much like a roving safety would do in deep coverage. While these are good plays, they still represent a very small sample size, which is why I continued to study Hall’s sophomore tape.
In the defensive portion of his sophomore tape, Hall again plays perimeter CB, both up on the LOS and in off coverage. What we get to see in the extended tape is the development of his more nuanced CB technique. He is quick to leverage his long arms with jabs at the LOS, and he rarely allowed for a completely clean release. From there, Hall did well to turn and run with the WR. Seldom did he look uncomfortable turning away from the play to match an outside release, and he had surprisingly quick breaks on routes for a guy of his stature.
As with most DBs who don’t have obvious positions dictated by physical traits, the big question for Husky fans is projecting Hall’s collegiate position. Ever since Lake was running the DB room, we’ve liked to cross train our DBs as much as possible in order to get well-rounded skill sets that could be applied at every position. Unlike many teams, we ask our safeties to play a bunch of man coverage, thump in the run game, blitz on the edge, and to be position-fluid (i.e. capable of playing nickel, strong safety, and free safety at times).
6-2 is on the tall-side for both CB and safety, and 175 lbs is well within the range of what I would expect a DB to enter college as, so size shouldn’t be a limiting factor, and I like guys projecting to safety if they have the read-and-react instincts (especially the 2-way guys who typically have the higher football IQ). However, besides not playing safety extensively, there are a number of things in Hall’s sophomore tape that make me hesitate projecting Hall as a safety.
The biggest limitation for Hall as a safety are his consistent struggles beating blocks and getting runners on the ground. When tasked with coming back to the play and step up in the alley, it looked hesitant to breakdown for the tackle. Despite being a willing tackler, it looked like he was more ready to go for a ride than drive through the runner for a form tackle. That lack of physicality isn’t something that you can easily coach up. Nor is it something that you’d like to see in a guy who might play 15-20 snaps in the box playing safety. I’m not saying we need a Kam Chancellor at safety, but the questions related to his tackling are something that overshadows Hall’s natural instincts and ball skills in coverage in my opinion.
Getting Hall into the right position where he can avoid run responsibilities will go a long way in setting him up for success. If placed out on the perimeter, I can see Hall excelling as a “Big WR” eliminator in the same way that Keith Taylor could match up on some of the jumbo WRs/flex TEs that we saw frequently in conference play.
We might’ve found ourselves a gem.