Ever since he got to Northwestern, Jimmy Hall has bounced around. He came to Evanston as a receiver, but after his freshman year, he switched to safety. Now, he’s a safety/nickelback/do-it-all defensive back for the Wildcats, and while is role is largely undefined, he’s okay with that.
“To be honest with you, I like playing the most I can, just being out on the field,” Hall said.
Hall’s skill set is an interesting one. He’s big for a safety, but can still play the position. However, the Wildcats already have two very solid safeties in Ibraheim Campbell and Traveon Henry, so Hall didn’t have much of a chance to earn a starting role at the spot. Instead, he found a home at nickel.
“When I go in and play nickel, I’m a little quicker than a linebacker, can cover slot guys and things like that,” he said. “But then I can also come up and hit and play safety and stuff like that.”
Hall’s breakthrough at nickelback came last year in the Gator Bowl. NU played a lot of nickel and used Hall to shadow Mississippi State slot receiver Chad Bumphis. It worked. Bumphis averaged nearly 5 receptions and over 75 yards per game with an average of 16.4 yards per catch heading into the Gator Bowl. But against Northwestern, he had 3 receptions for 18 yards (an average of 6 yards per catch) with a long of 9 yards.
“He was their best receiver so they kind of wanted me to just come in when there were passing situations and guard him one-on-one,” Hall said.
For those who don’t know what a nickel defense entails, here’s a short breakdown: Basically, a fifth defensive back — usually a bigger one who can come up and hit — comes in to replace a linebacker. It’s typically played on obvious passing downs and can tighten up coverage. Hall’s size and speed are more comparable to a defensive back than a linebacker, but he’s still a big hitter. Once in practice, he hit wide receiver Kyle Prater so hard that Prater threw up on the turf. And as far as dealing with the pressure that comes with playing nickelback, Hall enjoys it.
“Coming in on third down, obviously, it’s pretty much always going to be a big play,” he said.
While Hall won’t ever be NU’s starting safety (barring injury) he’s performed so well as a defensive back that he’s started to see more snaps as a safety. That started in the Wisconsin series, he said, and he was one of the Wildcats’ best players in that game.
The gameplan against Iowa should be interesting. The Hawkeyes use a lot of multiple tight end sets. They’ve always run a lot of the 22 personnel package (two backs and two tight ends), but against Ohio State last week, the Hawkeyes ran a lot of 13 personnel (one back and three tight ends). It will be interesting to see how Hall’s role changes in this game. Will the coaches opt for his size against Iowa’s big, but quick tight ends?
It’s tough to say how, exactly, NU will use Hall, but one thing is for sure: he’s going to be part of the Wildcats’ gameplans from here on out. As long as he gets on the field, he’s alright with the ambiguity of his role.