After a Difficult Road, Is Jordan Hall Saving the Best for Last?
By Patrick Murphy
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Jordan Hall stepped on Ohio State’s campus in 2009, even he could not have known how he would fit into the Buckeyes’ plans in his career.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The athlete from Jeannette, Pennsylvania was not considered to be one of the higher profile recruits of the class behind the likes of Jaamal Berry, Carlos Hyde (who did not enroll until a year later), Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown, and others.
Hall was a high school friend of OSU’s prize recruit from the previous class, Terrelle Pryor, and many believed Jim Tressel offered Hall a scholarship to appease his star quarterback.
There were not high expectations from Hall going into his freshman year.
It soon became obvious that Hall had some ability and may not have just been a throw in to make sure Pryor was happy. In his first season as a Buckeye, Hall played in six games, carrying the ball 48 times for 248 yards and one touchdown.
With players ahead of him, Hall had to show his ability on special teams. He established himself as a potential breakaway returner on both kicks and punts, with 85 and 70-yard returns respectively in his sophomore campaign.
2011 saw Hall get his chance under Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman. He registered career highs in carries and receptions, while still being used in the return game.
Though Hall began to excel in 2011, Ohio State struggled to a 6-7 record that resulted in the hiring of Urban Meyer. After Meyer finished drooling over Braxton Miller and began to look at what else he had acquired in taking over the Buckeyes, Hall was someone in whom he saw potential.
Photo by Jim Davidson
To that point in his career, Hall had played in 29 games for the Scarlet and Gray, but had only registered 20 receptions. Meyer saw not only someone who could carry the ball, but also a player who could make an impact in the receiving game.
Meyer’s offense thrived at Florida when he had Percy Harvin playing the slot and the H-back role, a hybrid position between running back and receiver, who could terrorize defenses in many ways. While he is quick to point out that there is one Harvin, Meyer knew it was important to find someone to take that role and Hall was to be given the first shot.
Hall was penciled in after Meyer’s first spring practice in Columbus, but he suffered a cut foot that required surgery from walking barefoot outside his apartment the summer before his senior campaign.
While this did not derail Hall’s chances of leaving his mark at Ohio State in his new role, it meant he would miss fall camp and the beginning of the season. When he did return against California, he was not back to game speed and Corey “Philly” Brown still saw time at the position as well.
After just two and half games, Hall was forced to leave, and was ultimately done for the season, with a sprained posterior cruciate ligament. The H-back role was predominately filled by Brown for the remainder of the season, and Hall eventually was given an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA.
Hall came into the spring practices again looking to really grasp this position and make it his own. In the back of his mind there must have been the knowledge that a couple of highly-recruited incoming freshmen, Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, seemed a perfect fit for the role.
Photo by Jim Davidson
In the very first practice, Hall demonstrated why he would be given the first shot. Working entirely with the receiving corps, Hall ran crisp routes, caught some nice passes – including an impressive deep one-handed catch – and showed the speed everyone remembered.
Yet again the injury bug crept up on Hall at the worst time. He suffered an injury to his hamstring that kept him out of most of spring practice and limited him to fielding and fair catching punts in the Spring Game.
While the coaches continue to be excited about Hall, the question remains, will he ever be healthy enough to show what he’s worth? There is no doubt he has the ability to play the position, but it is uncertain if he can take the pounding.
The Buckeyes’ No. 7 could be a huge playmaker and terror in the Big Ten if he can get fully fit before the start of the season and stay that way throughout the year. Buckeye fans have seen what Hall can do in space when he has broken free in the return game, and it is similar skills that could make him successful in Meyer’s offense.
With Hyde’s big year last year, Meyer will certainly look to continue to pound the rock with the inside zone read. Keep in mind that Brown had flashes in the H-back role, and the coaching staff will also want to see what the freshmen can do at some point. That could limit the pounding that Hall will have to take and increase his odds of staying healthy.
While Hall would like to get as many touches as possible, the luxury for Ohio State to be able to pick their spots when they'll go to him could keep him on the field for the entire season. That would turn it into a matter of quality over quantity for Hall; when the ball is in his hand he will need to make the big play.
With the exception of plays made by Braxton Miller, big plays eluded OSU for much of last season, but Hall has the skillset to change that. If he can make people miss and use his speed and quickness to get downfield, both the rushing and passing game numbers will spike and the Buckeyes will be that much more difficult to defend.
Hall could then cement his place in Ohio State history and announce himself as not just some prize recruit’s friend, but rather a legitimate contributor in his own right and potential NFL draft pick.