No one would have faulted PJ Hall for taking a little time to get his footing at the NFL level. The rookie round two pick was playing at Division II Sam Houston State this time last year, so a bit of a transition was expected.
So much for that.
Hall took the field on the third snap with the Lions first team on the field in 3rd and five and immediately sacked the quarterback, taking down Matt Cassell for a nine-yard loss.
It was just how Jon Gruden envisioned when he made Hall the team’s pick at 57 overall. Or put another way, it’s just what was missing from last year’s team.
“The guard just kind of overstepped so I went to power on him inside,” Hall said of the play. “His quarterback stepped up, so I just released and he was right there sitting in my lap.”
This time the pressure around the edges came from Fadol Brown and Bruce Irvin.
The past couple seasons it’s been mostly Khalil Mack and Irvin who have gotten good pressure on the outside, but there was rarely anyone on the inside to take advantage of that. Hall took advantage right out the gates.
“It was awesome to see him go out there and get a sack that early. It was great. That’s what Coach Gruden wants is inside pressure. You try to do that all preseason games.”
Hall had only begun to look like he was putting things together these past few days in camp after an offseason without making much noise and starting camp on the PUP list with a strained pectoral muscle. He seemed like he was getting more comfortable and then the Lions scrimmaged with the team and he really began showing up.
“I felt like I had to step it up a notch when we had the joint practices with them,” said Hall. “It felt real good this coming week after those practices, so I definitely felt confident coming into this game also.”
It’s still shocking there would be such instant gratification. Or at least it’s shocking to everyone but Hall and his college coach.
“It wasn’t surprising,” said Hall. “That was one of my goals is to try to…I actually talked to my coach, he played in the league, he told me his first play was a sack, so I was like alright, I’m going to try to make sure I get that done too and I got it done, so I wasn’t surprised. It was a good feeling to be able to get that out the way. Now I feel like I’m calm, I won’t be trying to shoot for sacks, I can just go out there and play my game now.”
The thing is, he had more than just that sack early in this game. The next series, he had a tipped ball at the line — something he had become known for in college as well. Everyone would like to know just how in the world a 6-0, 300-pound man has a penchant to tipping balls at the line.
“Really just timing,” Hall said. “Making sure if I’m not going to be able to get to the quarterback, make sure I just get my hands up. My coach has been preaching that since I was in college, so it’s a natural thing. If I’m not there, just try to get my hands up to bat down the pass and that’s a big stat. It’s not in one of the playbooks or anything, but it’s a big stat in the game.”
That tipped pass came on second and 20 and the Lions offense would again punt the ball away. The next time the Raiders defense took the field, they were up 10-0. They would go on to win the game 16-10, so that sack and tipped ball by Hall played a big role in the outcome. Can’t ask for a better way to start a young career.