Carolina Panthers

How Panthers defensive end Daeshon Hall used a ‘redshirt’ season to gain an edge

A knee injury cut Carolina Panthers defensive end Daeshon Hall’s (left) rookie NFL season short, after just one game. But the third-round draft pick from Texas A&M  used a year on the sideline to his advantage.
A knee injury cut Carolina Panthers defensive end Daeshon Hall’s (left) rookie NFL season short, after just one game. But the third-round draft pick from Texas A&M used a year on the sideline to his advantage. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

In four years at Texas A&M, Daeshon Hall didn’t miss a game. The defensive end went 52 for 52, and logged 32 starts. A redshirt year — be it for a lack of talent or an injury — was out of the question.

Last season, though, as a rookie for the Carolina Panthers, Hall ended up taking that redshirt year. It wasn’t by choice.

The 2017 third-round pick made his debut in the Panthers’ season opener, logging nine defensive snaps and no tackles in a 23-3 win over the 49ers. He injured his knee in practice soon after. Hall was inactive for the next three weeks, and went on the injured reserve list on Oct. 6.

Now, entering his second season, Hall has realized the subtle advantages of his unconventional rookie season. In terms of playing time, he’s virtually a rookie (only one Panther logged fewer defensive snaps than Hall last season: linebacker Ben Jacobs, with one).

But in terms of everything else — the travel, the logistics, the training? That’s not new.

“Year One was kind of like a redshirt year,” Hall said. “I got hurt, but I still got a chance to be around the other guys, still be in the meetings and going to practices, just learning the system … It’s kind of an advantage. You’ve got a chance to get your body right — and the mental side.”

His college stats were strong — 162 tackles, 36.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks — but his toughness was questioned. Some scouts saw the lanky 6-foot-5 Hall as a situational pass rusher, rather than an every-down end.

Hall said he hasn’t added any weight since joining the Panthers (he’s listed at 265 pounds on the official roster). But the 23-year-old has added more muscle, after a year of NFL workouts — and his coaching staff has noticed.

“In Daeshon, we’ve seen some really good things,” coach Ron Rivera said. “We’ve seen some good quickness, some explosiveness and better hand usage ... And he looks stronger — he really does.”

Rivera came back to hand usage as something Hall can improve on. Too often, the coach said, young pass rushers will try to bull rush every lineman they face.

“We’re trying to get these guys out of that,” Rivera said. “Get them to attack the edge and make plays using athleticism, as opposed to just brute force. (Hall) has a pretty good skillset. He has long arms; he’s explosive off the ball.”

The defensive line has a new position coach in former Michigan coach Brady Hoke. But with former defensive line coach Eric Washington now serving as defensive coordinator, little has changed.

Hall reiterated again and again how comfortable he feels in the Panthers’ system, and with his teammates. When asked who he is closest with, he rattles off Vernon Butler, Bryan Cox Jr. and Marquis Haynes — then corrects himself.

“Our D-line, we all hang out together,” he said. “We’re a close group … I wasn’t expecting to be as close with everybody in the NFL, but our D-line is like a family — really, our whole entire defense.”

In such an environment, Hall has been able to maximize his learning from players like Mario Addison and future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers. He said he doesn’t have a go-to move while rushing, and instead tries to pick up on a bit of everything, including what his veteran teammates do.

“Just try to do things they do well, and put it into your game,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to do exactly what they do, but you can always tweak it.”

Since 2012, the Panthers lead the NFL in total sacks (280) and sacks from defensive linemen (219). In terms of single-season sacks, the team has finished in the Top 10 five of the past six years. Last season, the Panthers were third in sacks (50) and opponent rushing yards per game (88.1).

Hall has watched this production up close for a year now. He also realizes the emphasis his team puts on developing defensive linemen. Addison, who tied for the team lead with 11 sacks last year, was an undrafted free agent. The same goes for Wes Horton, entering his sixth season with Carolina, and Cox, who played in seven games last season as a rookie.

“We’ve got a young guy with some skillsets we like,” Rivera said of Hall, “and hopefully he can be productive … We really won’t be able to tell until we see him on the field in the preseason.”

With his redshirt season behind him, a healthy Hall is anxious to carve out his role in a position group known for its consistency. Regardless of what that role is, he’s happy to contribute — and wants to play on more than 0.9 percent of the Panthers’ defensive snaps.

“I’m fortunate to be here,” he said. “I’m happy to be here. And I’m just glad I can be a part of this defense.”

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