When Leon Hall became a free agent in March, the common belief was that the Bengals were moving on from the veteran cornerback and advancing forward with their youth, including first round rookie cornerback William Jackson III.
Hall sat on the free agent market all spring and for most of the summer. When training camp started, the Bengals cornerback group quickly began to get dinged up. Jackson went down with a torn pectoral that required surgery and now has him on Injured Reserve and third year (also first round) cornerback Darqueze Dennard went down with an ankle injury that ended up keeping him out for the entirety of training camp and the preseason.
As such, the Bengals’ interest in Hall began to increase and reports circulated that the Bengals offered Hall a deal. But, the Giants were also interested in Hall, having brought him in for a tryout early in the offseason, and offered him an opportunity to experience the big city life and how an NFC team operates.
Hall chose the Giants, to the surprise of many. Now, as the former Bengals cornerback gets set to face his team of nine years for the first time, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is speaking out regarding what happened with Hall.
“We have drafted some young players over the last three or four seasons and at some point, you are trying to clear opportunity and space,” Lewis said on a conference call with the Giants media. “We spoke with Leon a number of times, and Leon was hesitant to commit to coming back because he was unsure what his role was going to be at that point. We thought that we moved on from Leon and Leon moved a little bit away from us as well.”
It was expected that Dennard was going to take on the role Hall filled last year, as the cornerback in nickel packages. But, his preseason injury helped lead to second year cornerback Josh Shaw landing that job. There may be changes with Dennard’s playing time in the second half of the season, but so far, the third year cornerback has seen limited action. Those two players are likely a big reason why Hall was hesitant to return and see his playing time diminish.
Hall has played 282 snaps for New York this year, and was inactive in Week 9. He has only started in two games. So, if having a starting role and expecting a significant amount of playing time were his reasons for leaving Cincinnati, it seems Hall may have been misled. Josh Shaw, comparatively has played 298 snaps as the Bengals’ primary slot cornerback. Dennard has been of defense for 126 snaps and has been more active on special teams.
“He was a big part of us, he is a big part of me, you love him, you love his family,” Lewis said of Hall. “I was completely honest with him about what his role was that we perceived it to be, and he was looking to be able to carve out maybe a little bit more niche still that way.”
Hall has played both safety and cornerback for the Giants, but, his inability to play on special teams led to him being a healthy inactive in Week 9. You’d think the Giants will play him in Week 10 against a team he surely knows more about than anyone on New York’s roster.
“I prefer it that way,” Hall said of the Giants using him on the outside, in the slot, as a dime back, and at safety. “I've always liked to do multiple things, which is part of the reason I like nickel so much. You get to do a whole plethora of things in coverages and blitzes, so being at dime is kind of the same idea as safety, which I played a little bit in Cincinnati or definitely practiced some of it. So it wasn't too out of the ordinary, but I like doing that kind of stuff.”
Hall says he’s not looking to make a statement against his former team and is just hoping to “come out with the win and go from there”. We’ll see just how this matchup unfolds on Monday night when Hall is tasked with slowing down Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and the rest of the Bengals’ offense for the first time outside of practice.