Given that he was the No. 53 overall prospect in his recruiting class, it might have surprised some that Mike Hall redshirted his first season at Ohio State.
It didn’t bother Hall himself.
“You really got to put the work in before you get on the field and just be patient. You can't rush anything,” Hall said this spring. “I didn't expect to play my freshman year.”
Hall did play in four games last season but no more, as Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson decided early in the season to preserve Hall’s redshirt. While fellow freshman defensive tackle Tyleik Williams, a less-heralded recruit, made an immediate impression in his first year, Hall played only 35 snaps with all of his action coming in blowout wins.
By Hall’s own admission, he wasn’t ready to play a significant role in his first year. While Williams enrolled early in January 2021, Hall didn’t arrive at Ohio State until the summer, and he says he struggled to pick up the defensive scheme early on.
Now that he’s been through a full season and had the opportunity to go through spring practices for the first time, Hall says he’s feeling much more comfortable within Ohio State’s defense.
“It took me a while to get accustomed to it, but definitely now, I feel like I'm making great progress,” Hall said. “Some guys pick it up faster than others, and I was just one of those guys that just, it took a little bit more time. But I appreciated the time that it took, and you just value it more.”
Hall, who hovered around 280 pounds last year but is now up to 290 pounds, also feels bigger, faster and stronger after going through his first winter workouts with Mickey Marotti and Ohio State’s strength and conditioning staff.
“I definitely feel I'm a different player,” Hall said. “Just getting off the ball more and using my hands. Just overall, everything, I feel like I'm making a lot of progress from my freshman year and just starting to get everything down.”
“It took me a while to get accustomed to it, but definitely now, I feel like I'm making great progress.”– Mike Hall on his development entering his second year at Ohio State
Although Hall started his Ohio State career playing 3-technique, he spent this spring lining up at nose tackle. He said Johnson told him that’s where he’d have the best opportunity to get on the field this season, and he’s come to love playing his new position.
“I thought it was gonna be a little weird, but just talking to Coach J and just getting up on film and really just playing hard and seeing the outcome with practice, I like it,” Hall said.
Jerron Cage and Ty Hamilton are projected to be Ohio State’s top two nose tackles this year, but it hasn’t been uncommon for as many as three players to see regular playing time at each defensive tackle spot in Johnson’s rotations. And he could climb the depth chart quickly if he puts the same skills on the field in game action this fall that he impressed his coaches and teammates with this spring.
Williams and defensive ends Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau are the sophomore defensive linemen generating most of the hype this offseason, but new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said after the spring game that he believes all of Ohio State’s four sophomore defensive linemen are talented enough to be starters this year. And Knowles believes Hall’s skill set can make him a dangerous weapon at the nose tackle position.
“I thought he did some great things for us (this spring),” Knowles said in May. “He gets off the ball fast, and to me, that creates as much problems as some dude who's just sitting in there at 350 and can't be moved.”
Assuming Hall does see more playing time this season, he thinks the biggest thing that will stand out to Ohio State fans is his explosiveness getting off the ball. He wowed both Williams and Cage with that trait this spring.
“Mike's a freak of nature. Literally a freak of nature,” Williams said. “You just got to see it. He's different. He's quicker than all of us, I think.”
Cage described Hall as “really explosive.”
“Really, really explosive,” Cage added.
Hall didn’t want to make any bold proclamations this spring about what he could accomplish personally this season. He says his focus is on doing whatever the team needs him to do, not on his individual statistics.
“My expectation is just making progress and just coming out here and just playing with the guys and just having fun,” Hall said. “Right now it's just about the team and just playing out with the guys.”
He does get excited, though, when he thinks about what he, Williams, Tuimoloau and Sawyer could accomplish as a group over the next two-plus years.
“Watching those guys and taking reps with those guys, I feel it's gonna be real scary for the offensive linemen, any team,” Hall said. “I feel like we just get better every day and just motivate each other. We talk about it all the time.”