OU football: Surgery can wait, for now Jeremiah Hall making the most of his opportunity
NORMAN — Jeremiah Hall’s right hand shows the toll football has taken on his body.
Hall’s pinky finger sits at an odd angle, similar to the way Bob Stoops’ left pinky skews off.
“I dislocated it twice,” the do-everything OU offensive weapon said last month at Big 12 Media Days in Arlington, Texas. “I (dislocated) it once in high school and then I just did it again in the spring.”
Hall plans on having surgery to correct the deformity after the season, but first, he has work to do.
The redshirt senior was a big part of the Sooners’ offense a year ago. But as OU reports Thursday for preseason camp, Hall is looking for more in 2021 especially when it comes to his route running.
“I’m pretty sure you guys will see that this coming season, as well as my yards after catch,” Hall said. “I think I did a pretty decent job of that last year, but I just want to continue to show what I can do in all positions on the field.
“(In) my role as a fullback, h-back, whatever you wanna label me, most importantly, I wanna be known as a playmaker — both at OU and at the next level — so that’s what I’ve been working on.”
When coach Lincoln Riley and Hall sat down following last season — in which Hall had 18 catches for 218 yards and five touchdowns — and went over areas of improvement for Hall’s fifth season with the Sooners, route running was a primary focus.
“No doubt it was a big point for us for him to be able to separate and win more with his route running,” Riley said.
During spring practice, with tight end Austin Stogner and wide receiver Theo Wease banged up and limited in their participation, Hall got a chance to work in some different roles with more reps.
“He was one of the few guys in spring in that room who was at every practice, and he got a ton of work,” Riley said. “It was great for him and he embraced it and I think played some of his best ball during the spring.
“You appreciate a guy like that who takes something, it’s not that he’s been bad at it, but it hadn’t been a strong suit in his career and really worked at it. His route running took a major jump there, which is going to make him a much more versatile player.”
It wasn’t just the opportunity that led Hall to the improvement.
Instead of studying others in his position — like former do-everything Sooner Dimitri Flowers — Hall took time in the offseason to take a deeper look into wide receivers who don’t exactly have a similar body type or playing style to Hall’s.
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“It’s just making myself uncomfortable,” Hall said. “Trying different techniques and watching guys that came before me. So instead of watching Dimitri, who maybe didn’t run as many routes, I’m watching guys like Dede Westbrook. Maybe I can try something that looks like that. It’s thinking about what helps me. I’m not as fast. I don’t run a 4.3, right? So as a big guy, what can I do to beat a linebacker that’s maybe taking away my inside? It’s thinking about stuff like that that suits my game. That’s how I’ve gotten better over this past offseason.”
The position — however it’s labeled — has been one of the keys to Riley’s offensive success during his tenure at OU, from Flowers to Carson Meier and now to Hall.
“We’ll see how it evolves,” Riley said of Hall’s role in 2021. “It definitely helps to have versatile players that know your scheme. We had that a few years ago against Iowa State when Dimitri had to pop up there and play tailback. You have to be ready for anything and everything.”
Hall didn’t ask explicitly for an expanded role during that offseason evaluation.
But he’s confident the improvements he’s made to his game will point that direction.
“I think that Coach Riley has always been fair in recognizing talent and recognizing hard work and putting players as well as myself in a great position to have success,” Hall said. “So I trust him. He’s improved my role a little bit more than you guys have seen.
“It’ll be fun come this fall.”