CINCINNATI — Before Mohamed Sanu could take a step after his catch, cornerback Leon Hall reached in and emphatically stripped the ball out of arms, drawing a cheer from the crowd of about a thousand people on Monday afternoon.
Later, he caught up with Sanu as he tried to pull in a long pass from Andy Dalton and again knocked the ball away.
Just like old times.
The 30-year-old cornerback is making a good impression in Cincinnati Bengals camp. It’s remarkable that he’s still playing well enough to start in the NFL.
Hall tore his left Achilles tendon during a game against Pittsburgh on Nov. 13, 2011, the type of injury that can leave a cornerback a step too slow. He not only recovered ahead of schedule, but started the next season and played well, getting a pair of interceptions and knocking down 11 passes.
He tore the other Achilles tendon on Oct. 20, 2013 at Detroit and made another smoother-than-expected comeback. Hall started 15 games last season — he missed one with a concussion — and broke up eight passes while picking off one.
Hall was able to fully participate in the offseason workouts, unlike last year when he was still recovering from the latest injury.
“Not being able to be out there on the field, I think that made a big difference,” Hall said. “I was able to work on my technique, have some live stuff to go against the receivers. That was all beneficial — something I didn’t get for a couple years. It was nice to be back.”
The Bengals’ secondary is in transition with starting cornerback Terence Newman leaving for Minnesota as a free agent. Hall, a first-round pick from Michigan in 2007, has become the mainstay in the group.
“He’s a quiet leader,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He leads by example. Obviously coming off the two Achilles (tears), he wasn’t able to train for football. He came back and practiced in the spring. He’s actually doing football stuff, so he looked a lot better. I’m anxious to see him come back this year.”
He’s been helping Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard — a pair of first-round picks — get ready to move into bigger roles this season, giving them advice on diet and practice. One of them will get Newman’s spot, with the other playing a role on passing downs.
Hall is not only giving advice, but showing them how to do it, too.
“This year, he’s looking more like the Leon of old, just the way he’s moving around,” said Dennard, a first-round pick last year from Michigan State. “He definitely looks like the Leon of old, the Leon I was watching growing up. It’s kind of fun just to sit back and watch sometimes.”
NOTES: DE Michael Johnson is expected to miss a few weeks with a sprained right knee, injured during practice on Sunday. “Mike’s a little banged-up, but he’ll be good to go,” Guenther said. … DE Wallace Gilberry missed practice with a sore hamstring. … LB Vontaze Burfict was on a side field during practice, the first time he’s appeared at a team workout. Burfict is recovering from two knee operations and hasn’t been cleared to practice. … DT Devon Still got pressure on the quarterback during drills, getting the coaches’ attention. “He’s a man on a mission,” Guenther said. “He’s trying to win a spot on this team.” The Bengals were last in the league in sacks last season, getting very little pressure from the line.
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