The Jets may need to set up a special area in their film room just for Bryce Hall.
The former Virginia cornerback, whom the Jets drafted in the fifth round, spent so much time watching film of opposing teams and players that the Cavaliers set him up with a desk, computer and flat screen TV in their video room.
Hall was always there, working and studying. That preparation and attention to detail made him one of the best cornerbacks in the nation.
“His study habits are what put him over the top as a college player,” Virginia defensive coordinator and secondary coach Nick Howell said. “He just learned so fast and studied opponents so well, he just knew what was going on out there on the field."
The way Hall prepared — not only for each game but for playing his position — became legendary around the Virginia football program.
“It started pretty basic and then it just grew into something that was pretty phenomenal,” Howell said.
Hall was a wide receiver in high school, but coach Bronco Mendenhall and Howell decided that he would play cornerback. Diligent and determined, he worked extremely hard to learn his new position.
As a freshman, Hall asked Howell to work with him after practice on his footwork, stance and technique. He was like a sponge, receiving and processing the information quickly.
Hall, who played 12 games with seven starts as a true freshman, brought it to another level with his dedication to film work. He carried a notebook with him everywhere, filling it with information the coaches gave him and what he saw on film about opposing receivers, including notes about what they would do in every situation.
The result: Hall had 39 pass breakups, five interceptions and three forced fumbles in four years at Virginia. When he was a junior, his 22 pass breakups led the nation and his 24 passes defended were tied for first.
“You can always count on him,” Howell said. “His guy’s not going to catch the ball. He’s very competitive. You’re going to get your best from him all the time. The kid’s a player.”
Howell remembers one winter Friday night when Virginia was hosting some recruits. They were on their way to dinner, and a light was on in the film room. It was Hall. When Howell returned about three hours later, he was still there.
“And this was the offseason,” Howell said.
“I’m somebody who first and foremost prepares like crazy,” Hall said. “I’m very determined to learn and grow. Every day I’m hungry to learn and I’m hungry just to get better.”
Howell has no doubt that Hall will bring this approach to the Jets, who may have gotten a steal if the 6-1, 202-pound shutdown cornerback returns to form after a gruesome injury.
Hall, 22, fractured his left fibula, dislocated his ankle and suffered torn ligaments while blocking on a punt return against Miami in October. He was projected to go in the first or second round before the injury, and. the Jets wound up taking him with the 158th overall pick.
Hall said his ankle is “healed” and he’ll be able to play if the season starts as scheduled in September. Jets general manager Joe Douglas said team doctors also believe Hall will be “ready to roll.”
Hall will do everything he can to be ready — he always has. But after the Jets selected him, he showed the strength and character he displayed at Virginia, and more so after his injury. When he was asked if he would use falling as far as he did as motivation, he responded, “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
This reply didn’t surprise Howell.
“Bryce is an unbelievable human being and he lives his life in a way that lifts others up around him,” Howell said. “He’s built different mentally. He’s built different spiritually. The kid’s just a well-rounded human.”
Hall is very spiritual, and he relied on that faith after his injury.
Howell said Hall expressed no regrets about not turning pro after his junior year. He found other ways to prepare and be involved, becoming a coach, to an extent. He sat in on meetings and film sessions, picked Howell’s brain and advised his teammates. During games, he sat in the coaches’ box with a headset and clipboard and got a different perspective and insight.
“There was never any moment of pity or ‘feel bad for me,’ ” Howell said. “It’s refreshing. He has such a clear purpose. He knows things are bigger than football. He believes things are going to go the way they’re supposed to go. He views it as it’s helped him become better. That’s just who he is.”