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Former Blue Springs star Deiondre’ Hall showcases skills at Senior Bowl

Northern Iowa defensive back Deiondre’ Hall (left) and UMass wide receiver Tajae Sharpe ran through drills during NCAA college football practice for the Senior Bowl on Thursday in Mobile, Ala.
Northern Iowa defensive back Deiondre’ Hall (left) and UMass wide receiver Tajae Sharpe ran through drills during NCAA college football practice for the Senior Bowl on Thursday in Mobile, Ala. The Associated Press

Start with the arms. If you’re curious to know how Deiondre’ Hall went from being a former safety at Blue Springs High School with zero offers from FBS schools to becoming one the most intriguing senior collegiate cornerbacks in the country, that’s as good a place to start as any.

A solid arm length for a cornerback is anything over 31  1/2 inches. Teams that play press coverage prefer them even longer because it allows corners to press more effectively. Seattle’s star cornerback Richard Sherman, for example, has an arm length of 32 inches, while two Chiefs draft picks — Marcus Peters (31  5/8 ) and Phillip Gaines (31  7/8 ) check in a little under that.

So understand by comparison, Hall’s arm length of 34  3/4 inches — measured at the Senior Bowl weigh-ins on Tuesday — is absurd. His wingspan also measured in at 82  3/8 inches, which was the sixth best among all players in attendance, meaning the 6-foot, 1  5/8 -inch, 192-pound Hall has a longer reach than some linemen and linebackers who are several inches taller and 100-plus pounds heavier.

“It’s a cliché to say you can’t teach that kind of thing,” said Eric Galko of OptimumScouting.com, “but with teams wanting to press guys so often, he’s a press corner immediately.”

This little fact brings a smile to Hall’s face.

“Some teams love it,” Hall said of his arm length. “I’ll just be standing there or sitting there and (they’ll say) ‘Dude, hold up your arms.’ 

So yes, his arms are a big reason he was invited to play with some of the best senior prospects in the country this week. But it’s his overall skills, too.

As a senior at Northern Iowa, Hall — who converted to cornerback toward the end of his sophomore season — had 82 tackles, six interceptions and four pass breakups, and caught the eye of Senior Bowl scouting director Phil Savage.

“He fits the mold of the long-limbed corner that everybody is really looking for,” Savage said. “I didn’t go to UNI this year, but we had great success with (Arizona Cardinals running back) David Johnson a year ago, and some of the same scouts that went in there said, ‘Hey, this corner is really intriguing — it would be awesome to see him on the field in Mobile.’ So their wish was our command in terms of that.”

In many ways, Hall is just grateful to be here. As a senior at Blue Springs, he was first-team All-Metro after racking up 52 tackles, eight pass breakups and four interceptions. He was also a finalist for the Otis Taylor Award, which is given to the best receiver or tight end in Kansas City, by hauling in 35 catches for 710 yards and nine touchdowns.

Still, no Division I school offered him a scholarship, even though he says Kansas and Missouri asked him to walk on at receiver. Hall flirted with the idea so he could fulfill his dream of playing big-time college football, but in the end, he simply couldn’t get over the cost.

“I couldn’t do that to my mom,” Hall said.

Hall says he had offers from Southern Illinois, Illinois State, South Dakota and Northern Iowa. He chose the latter and set his goals high, but he couldn’t have predicted then that he’d be playing in the Senior Bowl one day.

“I thought I would play my career out at UNI as a safety and leave my footprint there,” Hall said. “But once coach Lynch got there, it just changed my game totally.”

Brandon Lynch was hired as the Panthers’ defensive- backs coach in 2013. Midway through that season, Hall switched from a linebacker/safety/nickel position in the Panthers’ 3-4 scheme to outside cornerback and fared well in the Panthers man-coverage heavy scheme.

That offseason, Hall recalled, Lynch — who is now the assistant head coach for defense — had a message for him.

“He was like, ‘Dee, if you really trust this layout for you — if you trust this plan — then it will take you places, wherever you want to go,’ ” Hall said.

Lynch was right. Hall embraced the challenge of being on an island almost every play, and matured into the defensive player of the year for the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2015.

“Being able to play press all the time is great,” Hall said. “The last two years it was almost strictly press-man (and) playing off man coverage. When you have a good front seven you can do that, and you really only have to win in the first 10-15 yards because that ball is coming out, so either he’s getting sacked or we’re breaking on the ball.”

And as you might imagine, Hall, a four-year starter and three-time all-conference honoree, credits his long arms for a portion of his success.

“It’s huge,” Hall said. “I’ve got to be a little more patient, but at the point of attack, it just helps because … locked arms create power, so when I get my arms all the way out there, I don’t think there’s too many people that could really get off that.”

Hall added that he really gets a thrill out of jolting a receiver perfectly at the line of scrimmage and disrupting the route, something that will surely make the NFL’s talent evaluators swoon.

“When I get my hands placed right and hit (receivers) in their chest while I’m 2 or 3 yards away from them, it’s kind of surprising to them,” Hall said.

Hall still needs polish as a corner, particularly with his footwork and awareness. However, he is still ranked as the No. 9 corner — and No. 76 player overall — in this year’s draft according to CBS Sports, which means he’s in the mix to be a second- or third-round pick. He’ll also need to run a fast time in the 40-yard dash at the Combine or Pro Day to solidify that status, but teams will surely be watching closely.

“I think he’s a bit of a project in terms of turning and running in a Cover 3 like teams are wanting to do with him,” Galko said. “But he can even play safety for teams, and just because he’s so long, he can embrace contact and be physical on the field.”

That’s exactly what Hall will be trying to prove at the Senior Bowl on Saturday, when he takes the next step toward proving his game is as good as his physical gifts.

To his credit, Hall certainly had no problem asserting himself during the week against players from bigger schools. During red zone one-on-one drills on Thursday, he and Ohio State star Braxton Miller went at it. One time, Miller beat him on an out route, but Hall recovered in time to swat the pass out of his grasp.

A few moments later, Miller beat Hall on an inside route, caught the pass and pushed him afterward for good measure. Hall didn’t back down, though; he jumped back in Miller’s face until they were separated.

It was a display of competitiveness that will serve Hall well as he learns the finer points of the NFL, a league he never even realized he’d have a chance to play in until a few years ago.

“I’m playing against the best seniors in the nation, so of course they’re gonna get a catch here or there,” Hall said. “But you’ve just got to come right back and keep playing your game.”

Long arm of the defense

Deiondre Hall’s arm length of 34  3/4 inches has caught the eyes of NFL talent evaluators. Long arms help corners play press coverage and increase their range when defending passes and making plays on the ball. Here are the arm lengths’ of some of this year’s Pro Bowl corners.

Chris Harris, Jr., Broncos: 33  1/2 inches

Josh Norman, Panthers: 32  3/4

Darrelle Revis, Jets: 32  3/8

Aqib Talib, Broncos: 32  1/8

Patrick Peterson, Cardinals: 32

Richard Sherman, Seahawks: 32

Marcus Peters, Chiefs: 31  5/8

Desmond Trufant, Falcons: 31  1/4

Vontae Davis, Colts: 30

Terez A. Paylor, tpaylor@kcstar.com

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