In Leon Hall, the Giants think they have found their nickel cornerback who can play in the slot. But what exactly do they look for at that position?
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said the most important area is “the chin to the hairline.” In other words, it’s a mentally strenuous position.
“You do have to be smart inside,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s about reading routes. You know we bring that guy in pressures, we send him back deep, we do a lot of things with the guys who play inside, whether it’s a nickel or a linebacker, or DB or linebacker, so he’ll have to learn that initially.”
It shouldn’t be a problem for Hall, who has played the slot all the way back to his college days at Michigan, when he rotated inside and outside.
“It’s definitely a different mindset,” Hall said. “You have a lot more going on in the slot, especially in the run game and just protections. You’re blitzing a little bit more, so you need to know protections and what a quarterback may or may not say. It’s not so much physical, is what I’m trying to say. I mean, you need to be quick, you need to be fast. On the outside, you need to be able to move well, think on your feet, and you’re changing direction. But you honestly need that inside or outside. But I think mentally is the bigger jump.”
Although Spagnuolo was hesitant to hand the job to Hall — either because of loyalty to the players who have been with him since the spring or a genuine concern that Hall might not be able to adjust to the new system quickly — he said he does have the brain for the role. In fact, he said, a lot of his players do. After a massive turnover at cornerback, with only Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Trevin Wade returning, Spagnuolo said he likes the way they do their thinking.
“The nice thing about that room is there’s some real good intelligence in there,” he said. “We’re getting some really good intelligence. In this day and age in professional football, I think intelligence is huge. I’m talking about football intelligence. You don’t have to have an IQ of 300, if there is such a thing, and you don’t have to have a high SAT and the rest of it, but you have to have football IQ to get it, and we’re getting more and more guys with football IQ who get it.”