When DeAngelo Hall joined the Washington Redskins midway through the 2008 season, he brought a tenacity that had an instant impact on the defense's mentality.
Now six seasons later, the three-time Pro Bowler is still as physical as they come at the cornerback position, but he's assumed more of a leadership role as well.
While some wouldn't have considered Hall for the role when he first joined the Redskins, first-year head coach Jay Gruden had no qualms approaching him about taking on the extra duties, especially after the retirement of linebacker London Fletcher.
"It's going to be the first camp in a long time that I haven't had a guy like Fletch around," Hall told the media following the morning practice. "So definitely the onus is on me. Meeting with Jay this offseason he kind of stressed that to me and I embraced it. I felt like I was ready for it."
Hall said one of the reasons he feels ready to takeover is due to the fact that Fletcher – his teammate for five and a half seasons -- took him under his wing and allowed him to soak up knowledge of how to guide a defense on the field.
"London, I tried to stay in his hip pocket as much as possible, so I'm definitely up for the challenge," he explained. "I understand it's not about me, it's about this team and I'm just trying to get everybody better. If I could have David Amerson or some of these other young guys step up and make plays, that's ultimately what I want to happen. I want those guys to eventually take over when I'm done or I can't do it anymore."
Gruden said Hall is a player the coaching staff is going to rely on, and his reputation as a ballhawk is something to which younger players gravitate.
"He's one of the veterans we're going to count on, one of the backbones of this defense," Gruden said. He's been here for a long time. He knows what good defense is all about and he's going to lead by example like he has.
"I thought last year he had a fine year tackling and covering. He's just got to carry that over. People respect DeAngelo Hall around the league. I know coming from another team I had a lot of respect for him as a player. With that respect, I think it will carry over into him being a leader."
Improvements In The SecondaryHall understands that the entire team needs better performances on gamedays if it wants to win a second NFC East title in three seasons.
For the defense, he believes it starts with the secondary.
"As far as what we need to get better at, a little bit of everything," the former Virginia Tech star told the media. "There wasn't really one particular thing that kind of hurt us (last season). It was a little bit of everything in different games, whether it was tackling, whether it was giving up explosive plays."
The secondary may have gotten better without even taking another snap following Week 17, as the offseason acquisition of safety Ryan Clark gives the defense a Pro Bowler with a Super Bowl ring on his finger.
Oh, and Clark is also is coming off a career season, despite being 34 years old.
"Having a guy like Ryan, he's just a student in the game," Hall said. "He can not only line everybody up, but he can go out there and make plays. He's going to be another physical presence back there in that secondary that as corners that you love to have.
"He's a guy that I feel like can just help our young guys. We drafted some young guys last year that can play football, but they didn't have a guy back there who could really teach them and relay to them the things that they needed to know to be a professional athlete. Ryan can definitely do that for us."
Another instant improvement is having a fully-healthy Brandon Meriweather back there, too.
"Guys aren't going to want to run across the middle knowing that Ryan Clark is going to hit them or Brandon Meriweather is going to hit them."
Top Cornerback DiscussionsWhile it's difficult to pin up one player as the best at their position, Hall certainly has a strong case in any top cornerback talk.
He's a three-time Pro Bowler with 43 career interceptions – third-most among active players currently on an NFL team – who is often tasked with going one-on-one with the opponent's top aerial threat.
Regardless, Hall said that in order to be successful at a position where you're often on an island, you must have the mentality that you're the best.
He tweeted his feelings about the topic a few days ago, and was asked to expand upon those thoughts on Thursday.
"As a corner if you don't feel like you're the best, you've got a problem right there," he responded when asked where he ranks among current corners. "I definitely think I'm pretty successful at doing what I do. Put my film against any corner in the league and we'll see what he does and we'll see what I do and we can go from there. I definitely think that if you put me out there against a receiver, anyone of them, I'll take my chances."
A Hungry DefenseAt the end of the season, only one team can truly be happy with their results – the Super Bowl champs.
Last season, it was the Seattle Seahawks.
Their winning formula?
A stout defense.
With a blueprint to follow, Hall said he wants the defense to dominate like Seattle's did in 2013 and it starts with edgy play.
"There is a chip on our shoulder," Hall said. "Seeing Seattle go out there and have a dominant defense, going into this offseason, they're what everybody is talking about. We all have got a chip on our shoulder, not just the secondary. We all want to be great. We all want to hold that trophy up at the end of the year.
"They have what everybody else wants. No matter how high-powered our offense is, you can't win without a defense that's going to get turnovers and get the offense the chance to make plays and keep other teams from scoring."
With linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan pairing up again, the endless possibilities for rookie Trent Murphy – he led NCAA Division I in sacks last season – and defensive end Jason Hatcher coming off an 11-sack season, the Redskins certainly have a healthy pass-rush.
Hopeful that they wreak havoc and force quarterbacks into rushed decision making, Hall said he wants the secondary to be more aggressive and focus on causing turnovers.
"We're going to go out there and try to let our pass rushers rush, secondary players have got to go out there and be physical and make plays," he said. "We have got to give our offense as many opportunities as possible for them to score and that's what we're going to try to do."