Vikings love rookie QB Jaren Hall for the things he doesn't do

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EAGAN, Minn. -- The mind games began for Jaren Hall moments after arriving at the NFL's scouting combine in February. When he showed up for his first team interview, the Minnesota Vikings were waiting with a film clip designed to test not his football acumen but his character.

"We set up a play for him," Vikings director of college scouting Mike Sholiton said, "where we knew his receiver ran the wrong route. We were trying to give him a chance to say, 'This player was wrong.' All he was willing to say was, 'I got to make it right.'"

Speaking at a recent OTA practice, two months after the Vikings drafted him in the fifth round, Hall said he didn't realize in the moment that his accountability aptitude was being tested. He knew that he could have provided a detailed and honest explanation for what went wrong on that play, one that would have made clear he was not at fault. But he credited BYU coach Kalani Sitake for instilling a basic tenet that served him well in that instance: Never sell out a teammate.

"It's just a team thing," Hall said. "You take care of each other and look out for each other, and anybody else on our team would have done the same thing. You don't throw each other under the bus, because if you make a mistake, you hope no one does it to you. You figure it out in the film study, but you never present that anywhere else."

Hall might sound a bit naive amid the callous NFL world of million-dollar contracts, internal competition and weekly performance evaluations. But his answer, and the nature of his subsequent interactions, helps explain why the Vikings targeted him in the draft. They have been careful not to project him as anything other than what he is -- a quarterback selected during a portion of the draft that rarely produces starters -- and as of now there is no reason to think he is on their radar as an heir to Kirk Cousins or even an immediate threat to backup Nick Mullens.

But Hall's arrival in Minnesota provides a revealing look at how the Vikings, and other NFL teams, evaluate draft-eligible quarterbacks beyond the handful of prospects who are usually off the board midway through the first round. Those remaining all have physical flaws or other résumé challenges -- in Hall's case they include a 6-foot-1 frame and a relatively advanced age of 25 -- so teams hunt for superlatives in other relevant areas.

The Vikings found Hall's "attitude scores" on their psychological tests to be "off the charts," Sholiton said. Those results were confirmed in his combine interview and in some nontraditional observations the Vikings made.

In addition to his response on the wrong-route film clip, Hall also was "genuine and authentic," Sholiton said, about the limits of his on-field responsibilities in college. Although it might have made him look better to tell the Vikings he had experience making extensive pre-snap reads and audibles, he instead told them he largely did not. And in a video of the combine meeting posted by the Vikings Entertainment Network, Hall took the blame for throwing a deep pass off his back foot when he was pressured against a look that BYU should have been able to block.

"The humility to know that he doesn’t know is just as important," Sholiton said. "We've had players in the past that lie through the pre-draft process. They fake it until you make it. With our staff of experts, they have a radar for that. Jaren never tried to pull that off."

Hall acknowledged that, like any prospect, he was "coached up" on how to handle combine interviews. His primary goal, however, was to be "organic" because otherwise "they are going to sniff it out pretty quickly."

That basic feature of Hall's personality stood out to general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who scouted him in person last season but also scoured YouTube to watch his postgame news conferences and other public interactions. Adofo-Mensah said he wanted to assess Hall's "presence," along with his responses to winning and losing. He concluded that Hall is an "outstanding young man" he would want leading any team or organization he was a part of.

"There's no right or wrong answer," Adofo-Mensah added, "but you just really learn how somebody is as a competitor, what they value. I think if you've heard me talk, I'm sure you've heard the weird math words come up a bunch of times because you know those things are important to me. So if you listen to somebody else talk and you hear those things, then you know what's important to him. I think what's important to [Hall] is the right stuff at the quarterback position."

During his final season at BYU, Hall threw for 3,171 yards with 31 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Anecdotes about Hall's attitude and personality, and observations of his smallish frame have drawn some prospect comparisons to Russell Wilson, a third-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2012 who unseated a veteran to start as a rookie. That isn't happening for Hall in Minnesota, and the comparison itself is probably unfair as Hall works to adjust to the pro level.

Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said Hall is progressing through multiple levels of transition, including micro-adjustments such as connecting the direction of his feet to the reads he is making in the pocket. With Cousins and Mullens getting most of the team snaps, Hall's primary work has come during post-practice sessions to run back the play script with other young players who received limited reps. Asked how the adjustment is going, Hall laughed and offered another authentic answer: "It's a lot."