- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

RICHMOND — DeAngelo Hall has always loved delivering a big hit, which was why he lowered his right shoulder and rammed John Kuhn.

Hall, then in his ninth game since transitioning to free safety, didn’t get this opportunity often in his 12 seasons as a cornerback. So when the Green Bay Packers’ fullback was charging to clear a lane for Eddie Lacy, Hall took his best shot at knocking Kuhn off his mark. Hall hit Kuhn so hard they collided into inside linebacker Will Compton and Lacy bounced loose for a 30-yard gain to the Redskins’ 4-yard line. The Packers, who eliminated the Redskins from the playoffs with a 35-18 victory, scored on the next play.

“Instead of hitting [Kuhn] with left arm and keeping my right arm free, I just run in there and try to blast him,” Hall said. “As soon as I hit him, I said, ‘Damn, I was supposed to turn that back to my inside backer. It ain’t about just taking on the fullback. It’s about taking him on with the proper leverage, the proper arm, being able to rely on doing your job and the next guy is going to do his job off of you. I learned from that.”

That play was ingrained in Hall’s memory throughout the offseason as he pushed himself to master the nuances of the free safety position. He’s welcomed the challenge, embarking on a transition that’s as difficult as it is rewarding. Hall of Fame cornerbacks Ronnie Lott, Rod Woodson and Aeneas Williams all navigated the switch and extended their careers. Charles Woodson and Ronde Barber did it, too.

“[Williams] was a smart player, he communicated well and he let his athletic skills and talents take over once he understood the position,” said Redskins defensive backs coach Perry Fewell, who coached Williams during his switch in 2003 with the St. Louis Rams. “D-Hall has all those attributes.”

Part of the adjustment for such a cornerback, Fewell continued, is honing that focus once they move to safety.

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“When [Hall] sees certain formations, route combinations, that’s where he is at his best,” Fewell said. “That’s where his intelligence really comes to the forefront. With that intelligence, sometimes his vision is too wide and therefore he’s learning how to narrow that focus. He’s a savvy veteran player. He understands how to set up a quarterback, how to read a quarterback. He’s getting better and better at that.”

Hall returned to training camp last season after tearing his left Achilles tendon in 2014. He knew he wasn’t at 100 percent then, but said he still felt good. “I knew it would take a little time to get that full burst back,” Hall recalled.

In Week 3 of the regular season, Hall sustained a right toe sprain against the New York Giants — a frustrating injury that kept him out longer than he expected. As Hall neared his return, which didn’t come until Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints, his switch to safety began.

Tired of doing simple conditioning drills, Hall began taking reps at the position on the scout team. It alleviated the pain he felt coming out of his breaks at the line of scrimmage when lined up as a cornerback and after he made a few plays, the Redskins coaching staff pushed forward with the idea.

Not only did it help Hall physically, but the team needed a boost at the position. Dashon Goldson was consistent at free safety, but Trenton Robinson and Jeron Johnson failed to produce after strong safety Duke Ihenacho broke his wrist in the season-opener.

At the time it seemed like a quick fix, but the Redskins and Hall have committed to it since the end of last season. They did not re-sign Goldson, Robinson and Johnson. Hall returned to organized team activities as the starting free safety and has been paired with David Bruton throughout training camp.

Fewell said he will measure Hall’s success by how well he communicates with the rest of the defense, something he wasn’t counted on to do at cornerback. Teammates have noticed Hall embrace that role.

“He’s awesome to have as a safety just because his IQ level is so high,” Compton said. “If we need to talk through something he knows immediately what to talk about, understands why things need to change. He knows a lot of ball and he’s somebody who lives in the details and takes it very seriously.”

Entering his 13th season, Hall feels rejuvenated. Even after practices, which can last as long as two hours in the humid Richmond heat, Hall said his body doesn’t ache like it used to.

“When you’re out here in the sun all day, the grind gets tough, but … just being challenged to do something else other than the norm I have been doing the last 12 years, I definitely feel juiced to keep doing it,” Hall said.

During a recent training camp practice, Hall intercepted Kirk Cousins’ pass intended for tight end Vernon Davis. He made a great read on the ball and followed the play with an enthusiastic celebration. The former cornerback has always had a flair for making a play in passing situations.

Now his responsibilities are greater than that and he’s eager to prove he can handle it.

“The communication and the verbal part, that’s one whole completely different animal,” Hall said. “Then the game play, the different techniques, the nuances of the position, man, I thought it was going to be something I could jump in and automatically be great at it. But it’s definitely a something I’ve had to work at and I’m trying to be perfect at it.”

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