In his nine years in Cincinnati, Leon Hall’s impact for the Bengals was always strong, whether early in his career as a great cornerback or later in his career as a great mentor. Now, he dons a solid blue uniform and plays in East Rutherford, New Jersey for the New York Giants, who signed him in the offseason.
This Monday, Hall will face off against the team that drafted him with the 18th overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft. He spent eight years with the Bengals, but now he will be hoping to help an opponent pick up a win against a Bengals team that desperately needs one. It’s a concept that Bengals fans and players have to get used to, especially an old friend like Bengals cornerback Adam Jones.
“I do miss him,” Jones told Paul Dehner Jr of Cincinnati.com. “Me and Lee have always been really close. I give him a lot of credit for where I’m at. The respect level is at the highest capacity for Leon. I love him as a friend and a person and a player.”
Hall’s impact on his former teammates, particularly the ones at his position, is one that continues to be felt to this day. A series of injuries caused him to lose his status as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, which he built early in his career. But, even in light of the circumstances, he gave the Bengals everything he had and helped bring the young players along as much as he could.
“He was just a person I could always go talk to and be able to reflect on some ways maybe I got beat on and ask what he would have done and why he did those when he was playing,” Darqueze Dennard told Laurel Phahler of the Dayton Daily News. “The leadership and experience, definitely, he meant a lot to me and the whole defensive back group as well. It’s tough when you lose those guys.”
That said, once his contract was up, the time had come for Hall to move on. For the Bengals, back in March they wanted to move forward with their young players. And then, when they started to consider bringing him back deep into the offseason, it was too late. For Hall, he knew that staying with the Bengals probably meant that he would very little playing time.
“I think it would have been tough either way,” Hall said via the Dayton Daily News. “Staying there and getting a new role, if that was the case, would have been tough since I’ve been there a while and I’ve had a role and I’ve played that role for a while. And, obviously, it’s tough coming out here in a completely different situation, conference, the whole deal.”
Now, Hall will play against Cincinnati for the first time in his NFL career. The Bengals and their fans won’t forget everything he did for this team, but on Monday he is a member of the New York Giants and the goal is to defeat the enemy and return to above .500 in a season that’s very much alive for the Bengals.
Hall isn’t the same player he once was, but he is familiar with the team and has the potential to make big plays if forgotten about.
“Leon’s been great,” Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said. “He’s a smart savvy vet. … We have a mix of young guys and veterans. It’s always good to add a guy to the mix like Leon, who’s a good leader. He’s been around a few systems and he gets football and can help communicate.”
To be fair, Hall’s familiarity with the Bengals might not be as big of a problem for them as it could have been. The Bengals went through so many changes on offense this season, that a guy who hasn’t been around the team for the past 10 months probably doesn’t know as much as he would if the same offensive coordinator was still employed. Still, the Bengals would do well to not underestimate the 31-year-old veteran who surely can give his new team advice on the Bengals’ defensive scheme and tendencies.
“He’s such a smart player,” Andy Dalton said. “He understands route concepts, disguising different things that he does. I saw in practice what everybody saw in games. That’s the type of player he is.”