Bryce Hall and his young(er) teammates all heard the chatter this past summer. The Jets' cornerbacks room needed a veteran or two. The folly of the decision by first-year head coach Robert Saleh to go with an inexperienced corps would prove costly, it was said all over social media, talk radio and among NFL observers.
"People say so many things from the outside, it's hard, but for me personally, you can't really allow that stuff to shape you or change the way you go about things," Hall told team reporter Eric Allen and Leger Douzable on this week's edition of "The Official Jets Podcast." "This is a game where we're striving for perfection and we're imperfect people. Everyone has an opinion and thoughts, even when we're doing well.
"For me, I just tune that out. You hear it, but man, it's important to guard your heart, especially when there's so much noise and chatter. I didn't pay attention to it. I knew my goals and what I was after this year. I have a high standard. That was my mission. Guys on the team felt the same way. Even though we're young, we appreciate the trust coaches had in us. We've had a lot of growing pains."
It seems, and sounds incongruous that Hall, in only his second season in green and white, is considered the elder statesman of the Jets' corps of cornerbacks, a group that includes the rookies Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock (who has also played some safety) and Isaiah Dunn.
General manager Joe Douglas and Saleh turned aside any notion that the Jets would do well to add a veteran cornerback.
"Pete Carroll once said, 'You can't be afraid to play young guys,' " Saleh said recently. "They're hell on wheels, and they're fun to watch."
And they are growing up and developing before our eyes, and the eyes of the NFL.
For Hall, a fractured ankle during his senior season at Virginia nearly sapped any hope of having "fun" again playing football. One time thought to be a first- or second-round NFL draft pick, Hall opted to return to UVA for his senior season. He fell to the Jets in the fifth round as the team bet on his potential and strong, quiet personality,
"When I got hurt senior year I learned so much seeing the game from a perspective I've never seen before," Hall said. "In coaches' meetings, in the press box, seeing the big picture. It challenged me as a leader and as a person. And when I came into the NFL it was a blessing in a lot of ways. I got a chance to sit back and learn and soak in things from some of the older dudes, about what it takes. I had a little bit of time to process that before stepping on an NFL field [in Week 9 against New England last season]. I'd never wish that on anybody, I didn't want to get hurt. But there are definitely so many things I grew from that have helped make me into that player I am today."
Long (6-1), lean (202) and quick, Hall has emerged as the Jets' No. 1 cornerback who does battle with the opposition's No. 1 receiver. Last week against Tampa Bay it was Mike Evans. This coming Sunday, in the season finale at Buffalo, it's likely to be Stefon Diggs (who had 8 catches for 162 yards in Week 10 at the Jets). So far this season, Hall is No. 6 in the NFL with 16 passes defensed, New England's J.C. Jackson leads the league with 22. And Hall has proved his durability, playing in all 16 games to date.
"I definitely have way, way more I need to grow and develop," the soft-spoken native of Harrisburg, PA, said. "I felt like this year I've had really good coaches, I've learned a lot. There's been a lot of growing pains throughout this season, just trying to be consistent. Any time I step on the field since I was little I wanted to be the best I could possibly be. I strive to be great. There's a lot more ways to go, something I can earn, something you have to earn."
As Saleh has mentioned a number of times, the next step for his young secondary is to hone their noses for the ball, to not only defend, but defend with an eye on making an interception and perhaps changing the outcome of a game.
"That's something that I know if I want to go to the next level I have to take that ball away," he said. "I've been looking deep and heavy at those opportunities. What it really comes down to is belief and doing the right prep. But it's about believing it when I see it. A lot of times I knew what was coming, but it's one thing when you know, another when you shoot your shot. For me when I know it I go. I've done the prep and the work, now it's time to shoot my shot. Difference makers are risk takers.
"There have been times I've been hesitant. That's something I want to improve on. That's the next step, for sure."
Away from the field, Hall said that he's content to go home to his 5-month-old daughter and wife "Anzel Viljoen, a field hockey player he met at Virginia who hails from Matamata, New Zealand, not far from the sets for "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" films.
"She allows me to be the kind of player I am today, so considerate, and cares about what I'm doing," Hall said. "She understands the grind. I have so much love and respect for her, a great partner. With my daughter, want to be with them and take a load off my wife when I get home. When I come home she doesn't know what went on in the game, she's just happy to see me."