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May 30, 2000 - Image 16

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2000-05-30

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16 -fhe Michigan Daily - Tuesday, May 30, 2000
t40MILES AND ANEW LIFE
By Dan Williams * Daily Sports Editor

T' 1first in a threepart senes on irstyt alumni
adusttingto the NFL world.
I's not a long journey from Ann
Arbor to Pontiac. With any traffic
luck on 1-94 and 1-75, the trip can be
completed in less than hour.
But James Hall is embarking upon a
grand prsonal voyage as the epicenter
of his life switches from Michigan
Stadium to the Pontiac Silverdome.
In many respects, the former
Michigan defensive end is entering the
same fluid point in his life as thousands
of other recent college graduates who
said their good-byes to sacred campus
grounds this spring in exchange for the
real world.
But James Hall isn't just moving, he's
fighting for his football life.
As an undrafted rookie free agent for
the Detroit Lions, Hall's future in the
NFL is simply unpredictable.
lins iRe, Citrus and Orange Bowl
victories won't win him notoriety here.
He wouldn't be the first person to
emerge from draft anonymity to a stable
NFL player, or even better. But if histo-
ry is an indicator, Hall has less than a 50
percent chance of establishing himself
in the league.
But he isn't playing the odds and
forging himself a backup plan.
For James Hall, putting together the
game that will get him in the NFL is his
foremost thought.
THE SPRING BEFORE THE STORM
Hall stands in a line of burly football
playerson a breezy May afternoon at
the outdoor practice facilities of the
Silverdome.
Most of his fellow defensive linemen
positioned near him are bigger and
taller.
Hall stands watching the projected
starting offense competes against the
starting defense during a low-contact
drill.
The second string defense replaces
the potential starters on the field, but
Hall doesn't budge - he doesn't even
uncross his arms.
It isn't an act out of protest or disap-
pointment. The

long shot rookie is watching intently,
trying to absorb the subtleties of this
higher level of football.
His coachability, his propensity to
work hard and learn initially attracted
the attention of Lions defensive line
coach Brian Baker.
"He has a good mental
approach to the game
in terms of learning
and understanding,"
Baker said. "That's
why he was one of
the first guys I
called."
Baker refers to his
phone call to Hall after the
Wolverine
watched six
teammates get
drafted but never
heard his name called.
During these light team practices
in the late spring, Hall main-
tains that he's thankful just to
get an opportunity to get into
the NFL with the Lions.
But it's only human for Hall
to feel a little bit slighted after
going unselected when he was a four-

year impact player at Michigan. It's only
natural to want to disprove naysayers.
That chance will come in a couple of
months with the start of the Lion's train-
ing camp and two-a-days in Saginaw.
"You don't evaluate a defensive line-
man until you get the gear on and start
hitting" Baker said.
For now, Hall works on making a
good impression - proving the coach's
correct when they fancied him a good
learner.
MELLOWING OUT
Much has been brought to light
recently of the wild and sometimes
seedy off-the-field lives of NFL players.
James Hall is having none of that.
He's spending his extra time "sleeping
and paying bills."
"I take care of the little things that I
have to," Hall said. "You can basically
do whatever you want. Some people
have different priorities. Some guys like
to hang out, other guys just like to sit up
in their room and relax."
He's trying to take responsibility for
himself, to "be a man" as Baker calls it.
And Hall's character was another that
lead Detroit to pick him up.

All uon's photos - MAN ORIE MARSHAL Daly
"James wouldn't be here if all the
intangibles weren't in place," Baker
said. "If they weren't, he wouldn't be
worth my time."
Still, there seems to be something
more to Hall's solitude than just good
behavior. Maybe he misses Michigan.
That would explain why he still
returns to practice at Schembechler
Hall. It would explain why he keeps fre-
quent contact with his old teammates,
many of whom have been scattered
around the country by the hand of the
NFL.
When Hall was at Michigan, he did
the athletes' circuit. He hung out at
Rick's and attend-
ed the big parties.
It's tough for a Projecting
football player to
adjust from being Queston: Wh
the big man on does James H
campus to the low Making the L
man on the totem
pole, and it's H ll: "1 have a
tough for anyone fidenice in mys
to go from college have the abilit
to professional 'to make the te
life.
"It's. weird to Defensive line
think that your Brian Baker:
job, your career o'ng to be sh
now is playing James makes t
football," Hall team, not by a
said. "It really is a the imaginatio
business. That's
an adjustment all Lions coach I
the rookies have "think heha
to get used to." cI think he at
chance, but ft
110 PERCENT competition tb
Hall finally gets
the call to take his defensive end posi-
tion.
As the ball is hiked, he tries to get
around the corner of the offensive line
but is stood up by a portly guard.
As Lions back-tip quarterback, Mike
Tomczak, an Ohio State star 16 years
ago, attempts to pass, Hall manages to
get his hands up within a few yards of
the journeyman slinger The ball falls

incomplete.
Maybe the extra effort by Hall was a
factor, maybe not. But either way, he's
going to have to make a lot of similar
hustle plays over the next few months to
make Detroit's roster.
"His measurables were marginal. He
has marginal height, size, and speed.
Testing wise, he's marginally athletical-
ly," Baker said. "The reason se liked
him is because we saw a good solid
football player. He's an effort guy.
Hall knows where his weaknesses lie,
and he realizes that he has to climb the
Lions ladder by attaining a reputation as
a gritty football player.
"Every team is looking for play mak-
ers," Hall said. "You really have to do
extra, because every little thing counts.
Being a rookie and a free agent, you
really have to fight your way up."
That's why Hall is one of the first
guys to cross the line with each succes-
sive wind sprint as the Lion's finish a
day's practice.
If he doesn't make the cut, it won't be
because he's a loafer.
THE LONG HAUL
Initially, the Lion's staff has been@
impressed with Hall.
"He's been doing very well," Lions
coach Bobby Ross said. "He has a little,
natural pass rushing ability. It's obvious
he's had great coaching. He understands
concepts defensively."
His intangible qualities - those that
can't be measured at the combines -
have earned him favor with Ross and
the other Detroit coaches.
"He's been a pleasant surprise," Ross
said. "I know some people thought he
was undersized, and
he's not as big as a
cutS Reggie White or
someone like that,
at chance but he understands
all have of where to fit and he
eons' team, understands how to
fit."
lot of con- But this is just the
elf. I thin I 'beginning. Hall can't
y and smarts just rest on a goo
am.' first impression.
There's no spot for
c ach him to lose. When
"We're not training camp rolls
ocked if around, James Hall is
his football going to have to win
ny stretch of himself a job with
the Lions.
"He's going to
Bobby Ross: have every opportu-
b .o. nity to make this
s a legitimate team. The intens
ere's a lot of evaluation will come
ele- in Saginaw," Baker
said, "Right now,
we're shadow boxing. When we put the
pads on, we'll be getting in the ring. All
this is good. It shows me at least that I
was right in terms of those evaluations
of the other things he brings to the
table."
For Hall, this spring has been a
promising start down a long road 44
NFL stability, but the toughest obstacles
still lie ahead.

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