Andre Hall didn’t have to travel far to take part in his first rookie mini-camp practice as a professional football player.
The former USF Bulls running back graduated roughly 20 miles down the road from One Buccaneer Place, and his college team shares the same home stadium as the Buccaneers.
But the drive over to One Buc Place likely will be Hall’s easiest task between now and September since he faces an uphill battle to make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster.
The 5-foot-8, 204-pound Hall was quite productive for USF, carrying the ball 480 times for 2,731 yards (5.6 avg.) and scoring 24 touchdowns during his collegiate career. He also hauled in 44 career passes for 470 yards and scored three touchdowns via the passing game.
Despite carrying USF’s offense on his back, Hall, who was projected to be a third-round pick by some draft pundits, went undrafted last weekend, which allowed the Bucs to sign him as an undrafted free agent.
“I expected him to get drafted,” Bucs assistant head coach/running backs coach Art Valero said of Hall. “I haven’t heard of any knock on the guy and I’ve talked to some other running backs coaches around the league and they didn’t hear of any knocks on him. I think he was just unfortunate that he fell through the cracks. And we’re fortunate that we got him. I liked him. I really liked him. I thought he bettered himself at the Senior Bowl and I thought he bettered himself at the Combine. Call it what you will, I think it’s fate. With his mom being sick, he gets to stay at home. That’s great. I’m glad to have him. I’m fired up to have him.”
According to Hall, he has already put the draft behind him and welcomes the challenge of making Tampa Bay’s active roster as an undrafted free agent.
“All my life, it’s nothing new to me,” Hall said of people doubting him. “It’s nothing for me to hit the bottom and work my way back up. It’s what I do. No big deal.
“I’m not worried about the draft. I’m a Buc now. That’s all that matters.”
In fact, Hall has already turned what could be viewed as a negative situation into a positive. After all, playing for your hometown team does have its advantages.
“I think this is the best situation for me,” Hall said of playing for Tampa Bay. “I’m used to the weather, so it’s not hard for me to adapt because this is where I grew up. I know a lot of guys around the city. I love the South Florida fans, and I hope they come cheer me on for the Bucs.”
Securing a spot on Tampa Bay’s active roster won’t be easy for Hall. He will be competing against the 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year, Cadillac Williams, an established veteran backup in Michael Pittman, and two up-and-coming players that the Bucs are high on in Earnest Graham and Derek Watson.
But Hall isn’t afraid of the competition he will face this offseason. Instead, he embraces it.
“I still feel I can run with the best, and here in Tampa Bay I feel I am playing with some of the best,” said Hall. “Cadillac is great, and Pittman is also. I am going to do all I can to learn from them and take what I learn onto the football field.”
One way Hall can help himself standout from some of his competition is by making a significant impact on special teams. That’s good news for Hall, who is an experienced kickoff returner. At USF, he returned 16 kickoffs for 332 yards (20.7 avg.). Although he did not return punts for the Bulls, Hall said he is willing to do whatever it takes to secure a roster spot this season.
“I’m going to do my best everywhere I play, including special teams,” said Hall. “I’m going to do my best on offense, special teams, kickoffs, kickoff return, punts, punt return, field goal, goal line, O-line, whatever. Wherever they need me to play I’m willing to do it.”
Some still find it hard to believe that a player as productive and talented as Hall went undrafted. One could certainly understand Hall’s anger or disappointment after not being drafted last weekend, but he refuses to dwell on it. It doesn’t matter to Hall how he got to Tampa Bay. Now he’s just focused on making the best of his opportunity to play for the Bucs.
“I’m not angry, I’m just focused,” said Hall. “I’m prepared to put on a show.”
Hall apparently caught the eye of Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, who had some kind things to say about the local running back shortly after Friday’s practice concluded.
“You see quickness, you see a guy that’s a natural runner.” Gruden said of Hall. “Obviously, it’s hard to see the whole package on the first day of mini-camp, but I’m impressed with the look in his eye, the way he sees things, and the way he can run with the football. But other than that, we’ve got a long way to go to learn more about him.”
Hall doesn’t have to look any further than a few players on the Bucs active roster to see that he does have a shot at making the team as an undrafted free agent. In fact, three Bucs players – left tackle Anthony Davis and linebackers Shelton Quarles and Ryan Nece – entered the NFL as undrafted free agents and started all 16 regular season games for the Bucs last season. While he is aware of those success stories, Hall knows he has to write his own script if he hopes to follow in their footsteps.
“I saw [those success stories] last weekend while preparing for this opportunity, but not anymore,” said Hall.
As a senior, Hall carried the ball 270 times for 1,374 yards (5.0 avg.) and scored 13 touchdowns. He also hauled in 26 passes for 321 yards and scored two touchdowns. In his junior year, Hall had 210 carries for 1,357 yards (6.4 avg.) and 11 touchdowns while catching 18 passes for 149 yards.
Those were impressive numbers, but one of the knocks on Hall was his size, or lack thereof. While he might lack size, Hall believes the teams that passed on him in the draft underestimated his biggest and most important attribute, which is the same one he says will help him defy the odds and make the Bucs’ 53-man roster this year.
“Size doesn’t matter,” said Hall. “The only thing that matters is the size of your heart. How bad do you want it? I want it bad, and I feel I have the heart, so now I’m going to go get it.”
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