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New approach is rejuvenating Rams' Hall
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Wednesday, Aug. 20 2008
Dante Hall didn't discover the fountain of youth last winter. But some of that
youth did rub off on him.
Late last season, while Hall was on the Rams' injured reserve list because of
ankle problems, he was working out at a gym back in Houston, his hometown.
There, he ran into former Kansas City Chiefs teammate Derrick Blaylock.
One thing led to another, and Hall found himself working out twice a week with
several high school athletes whom Blaylock was training.
"Once I got healthy enough. ... I just jumped in with them," Hall said. "It
just brought back that zest and that love for the game. Seeing these guys made
me remember how I came in — wide-eyed, not knowing what to expect, and just
working my butt off."
At first, the teenagers were starry-eyed, asking typical questions about life
in the NFL and how Hall has flourished despite being so small (5-8, 187 pounds).
"Then after that, they started trying to compete," Hall said. "Thinking they
could really beat me in the 40s, and the 20-yard shuttles and things like that."
How did Hall respond?
"Pride kind of took over," he said, smiling. "I got with those guys, and it
just made it fun again."
Two other factors contributed to what Hall calls a new mind-set about playing
for the Rams, and playing pro football:
— A better diet.
— Being reunited with Al Saunders.
As for the diet, Hall said he gave up fast food and went healthy.
"A lot of greens. A lot of fish. A lot of water intake," he said. "I'd rather
have a sub sandwich instead of fast food. And in the evening, I would have my
girl — I have a girlfriend now — cook for me more. Baked chicken. Asparagus ..."
Hall is about five to 10 pounds lighter than he was a year ago, and he feels
The hiring of Saunders as Rams offensive coordinator also put more bounce in
"That was the other thing that made all the difference," Hall said. "Because I
felt like at times last year, no matter how hard I worked, no matter what I
did, I knew I wasn't going to get on the field (at wide receiver). The offense
wasn't suited for me. They had Ike (Isaac Bruce) and Torry (Holt). They had
just brought in Drew (Bennett)."
But Bruce was released at the end of February; Saunders had been hired about a
"I knew Al was the kind of guy that he's going to put the best players on the
field," Hall said. "He's not concerned with the contract; he's concerned with
what you show him on the field."
During Saunders' tenure as Kansas City's offensive coordinator (2001-05), Hall
enjoyed his greatest success, both as a receiver and a return man, with the
Chiefs. Saunders developed a feel for Hall, as a player and a person.
"I learned a long time ago from Don Coryell: Don't ask players to do what they
can't do," Saunders said. "Find out what they can do and then put 'em in a
position so they can do it. There's certain things that Dante does extremely
well. Having a familiarity with him, I think there's an advantage that way."
And it goes beyond simply what pass patterns Hall runs best. When you're around
a player for a period of time, Saunders says, you learn how they respond in
certain situations. What they're like on the practice field, and how that
transfers to game day. How much they're capable of learning. And how much you
can push them physically, mentally and emotionally.
With Hall, there's no guesswork for Saunders. Which explains in part why Hall
appears to be rejuvenated entering his second season as a Ram. Despite missing
a couple of days this week with a sore hip, Hall is in line to be the club's
No. 3 — or slot — receiver in addition to his usual punt- and kickoff-return
"He probably has had one of the best training camps and (spring workouts) of
anybody on the squad," Saunders said. "I see him how he was two or three years
ago, when he had that change of direction and acceleration, and he was
enthusiastic about the game and enjoying himself.
"When he's right, he can be very special at what he does. I think he's improved
his skills as a wide receiver. He's catching the ball very, very well. It's
documented what he can do running the football, once he gets the ball in his
hands. ... The good Lord blessed him with a great deal of ability in space."
Hall feels that getting some work at receiver helps him in the return game.
"It's so hard, just standing, standing (on the sideline)," Hall said. "I don't
even care if I'm blocking. I told (Saunders), it's not even about the balls.
Just let me get in the flow. ... It makes all the difference in the world.
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