Hall Embracing ‘Pivotal’ Role This Spring
Buckeyes Expect Senior to Take Pressure off Miller, Hyde
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In four years at Ohio State, Jordan Hall’s biggest claim to fame is being the guy who cut his foot on a piece of glass while walking his dog.
That’s not the way Hall wants to be remember, but his crowning moment on the field is a 42-yard kick return against Wisconsin during Ohio State’s come-from-behind victory back in 2011.
That’s it. He didn’t even score the touchdown. He just put the Buckeyes within striking distance for Braxton Miller’s dramatic game-winning touchdown pass to Devin Smith during one of the worst seasons of Buckeye football in recent memory.
The foot injury, coupled with a midseason PCL tear, eventually cost Hall the bulk of his senior season. Now the 5-9 back out of Pennsylvania is looking to change perception in his fifth year with the Buckeyes.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I’m real excited,” Hall said after practice Tuesday.
“Being out last year was hard, so this year I’m ready to go. Everybody’s trying to be great around here. That’s what Coach (Urban) Meyer brought here, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Hall isn’t quite ready to go just yet. He sat out Tuesday’s practice with a minor hamstring injury. It was the result of over-use during the first week of practice, according to Meyer.
“That’s my fault,” Meyer acknowledged on Tuesday.
“I saw him lay out for a couple of plays. The amount of running for a receiver compared to a running back, he just wasn’t ready. I looked at my strength coach (Mickey Marotti) and we both realized we made an error.”
Thanks to a postseason ban, the Buckeyes had been off for 105 days when they returned to the practice field earlier this month. Hall had been off even longer. He had not played in a game since last September, but staying healthy has been an issue that goes further back than that.
After missing the first two games of last season because of the foot problem, Hall injured his PCL during Ohio State’s 17-16 win at Michigan State. He would miss the rest of the season, but a medical redshirt has given the Buckeyes another weapon for the offense this spring.
“It’s awesome,” OSU running back coach Stan Drayton said after the third practice of the spring.
“What you have there is on-the-field experience and you have some good leadership. Jordan brings an unbelievable amount of toughness to the program. It is a luxury, no doubt about it.”
Having a guy like Hall would certainly appear to be just that, a luxury, for Drayton, who coached the running backs at Florida under Urban Meyer during the Gators’ first BCS National Championship in 2006.
With starter Carlos Hyde back for his senior season, Drayton has a stable of talented running backs at his disposal for the 2013 season. None of them quite with Hall’s ability to make people miss in the open field.
“You have a kid who you can put in space who has all these talents and is versatile,” the second-year assistant said.
“He’s definitely a valuable threat and a significant player in this system.”
In order to maximize talent and get more speed on the field, the Buckeyes have moved Hall to the hybrid ‘pivot’ position this spring. It was a position Drayton worked closely with during his time at Florida, and he sees a guy who provides everything they’re looking for at the ‘No. 3’ slotback this spring.
“The one thing about Jordan Hall, you look at his stature – he looks small, but the kid is a 400-pound bencher, he is 200 pounds, he is quick as a hiccup and he can make you miss in space,” Drayton said.
“And if you have a poor angle on him or you hit him the wrong way, he’s going to break a tackle.”
Hall did show off some of his elusiveness during the first half of Ohio State’s 24-6 loss to Miami (Fla.) back in 2011. He finished the game with 87 yards on 14 carries, but a leg injury kept him from producing much in the second half.
He is averaging over 4.6 yards per carry for his career with the Buckeyes, but taking a handoff deep in the OSU backfield has never really fit the skill set he brought with him as a shifty runner out of Jeannette, Pa. back in 2009.
“Usually when you catch the ball as a receiver there are two people to make miss,” said Hall, who was a 4-star prospect in the ’09 recruiting class.
“As a running back, you have to run through a D-line, linebackers and safeties.
“I figure I can make two people miss.”
Hall showed a little bit of that on the first day of spring practice. The Buckeyes weren’t in pads yet, and Hall didn’t take many handoffs, but he looked like the fastest player on the field against the first-team defense.
“We have a lot of playmakers on offense,” Hall said on Tuesday.
“I think I can just be another one, just another person the defense has to prepare for. I’m looking forward to that.”
The Buckeyes return most of their pieces on offense from last season, including both starting wideouts and a pair of talented tight ends in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. But Drayton believes the offense was only operating at 60 percent capacity in year one compared to what he saw when it was at its peak with Florida during the 2006-09 football seasons.
The addition of Hall should allow Ohio State to unveil more of the offensive firepower Meyer had at his disposal when he was using guys like Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps to fill that role in Gainesville.
“It's going to be significantly different,” Drayton quickly added. “It’ll make life easier for the whole operation.”
But it’s not all on Hall. The coaches are well aware of his history with nagging injuries. They remember what it was like last season when Hall showed glimpses during the spring before that nasty foot injury derailed his senior season.
This time, the Buckeyes will have reinforcements. With Hall on the sideline Tuesday, Corey Brown took most of the reps in the slot, but they don’t see him as a realistic solution at slotback. For that, Meyer and his staff will turn to a couple of incoming freshmen by the names of Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall.
“We just didn't have enough ‘make-you-miss’ guys on offense (last year), and I think we addressed that,” Meyer said on National Signing Day.
“I think we're starting to get a little bit of that built up where you're having a Jalin to put out there, and that's what (Dontre) will do as well. And you can break the formation a little bit and have guys in space.”
Wilson and Marshall won’t be on the field until August, but one way or another, things are going to look different for the Buckeyes with that added threat in 2013.
“You’re going to see the offense work in its full function now,” Drayton said.
“We are going to be able to displace defenders, get those linebackers out of the box and maybe for a defense to chance personnel by putting more DBs on the field instead of linebackers.”
Which should make things a lot easier on guys like Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller, who carried an otherwise anemic offense to an undefeated season in 2012.
“People can’t just hone in on just a quarterback or just our running backs,” Drayton added.
“They will have other people who are in the formation that they have to worry about. It is going to be significantly different.”
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