Allen: 'We're big on character and we want big character guys'
Drafted No. 12 overall by the Raiders, Hayden has been medically cleared to participate in everything the Raiders will do in camp. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
ALAMEDA -- The last time D.J. Hayden stepped on a football field? He almost died. A nondescript practice collision at Houston on Nov. 6 ruptured the inferior vena cava, a large vein that pumps blood from the lower part of the body into the heart and Hayden nearly bled out internally.
So forgive Hayden if he got a little reflective this weekend as he took part in his first NFL camp with the Raiders holding their three-day rookie camp at their facility.
"It felt like old times," Hayden said Saturday. "I did my usual routine. I came here, took a knee, said a little prayer then just went out there. It wasn’t like it took me extra time to get ready. I just went out there and did what I did."
Drafted No. 12 overall by the Raiders, Hayden has been medically cleared to participate in everything the Raiders will do in camp. Including, it turns out, what Oakland drafted him to do -- break up passes.
Yes, it's early. It's a ridiculously small sample size after two non-contact practices to gauge what Hayden can and cannot do on an NFL field. But the fact that he is here at all is a small victory. To be the game-changing cover cornerback in the mold of such Raiders greats as Willie Brown, Lester Hayes, Mike Haynes, Charles Woodson and Nnamdi Asomugha is the eventual goal.
Big talk? Yes. But there's a reason general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen would have taken him at No. 3 overall had they not found a suitable trade partner to move down.
So it was heartening, so to speak, to see Hayden flash across the field to break up a pass from Tyler Wilson to an unidentified tryout player on Saturday, Hayden seemingly beaten before stretching out to bat away the ball in stride.
It was as pretty as it was simple.
"It helps put me at ease," he said of the play. "As long as I keep making production, I feel like I can get better. Just make plays. When I made the little play I was happy. I should have caught it but there’s always room for improvement.
"Corner’s basically the same thing everywhere. The coverages aren’t that hard. I think I’m picking it up pretty good. I’m just trying to soak in everything coach (Clayton) Lopez and coach (Johnnie) Lynn are trying to teach me. I’m just trying to soak it all in like a sponge."
Even as he is nursing a hamstring he strained during his Pro Day.
"So he's still not quite 100 percent from there but he's been out there, working through it," Allen said. "He made a nice play on the ball today. So I'm pleased with where D.J.'s at and, again, it's going to be a learning process.
"It's putting one foot in front of the other and I think when it comes time to play games this September, I think he'll be ready to roll."
Before then, though, will come tons of information to process. And intricacies to learn.
"I would just say getting used to not putting your hands on people down the field because in the NFL you have the 5-yard rule, so, just adjusting to that," Hayden said. "In college I used to kind of push people a little bit so I have to adjust to that."
He was not laughing.
He did smile, though, when I asked him if Brown, the Hall of Famer, had given him any pearls yet, though.
Hayden moved his hands in a quick-burst chopping, north-south motion.
"Yeah," Hayden said, "he told me to move my hands out of my break."
So, what kind corner does he profess himself to be -- off the ball or press?
"Probably a mixture of both," he said. "It all depends on the down and distance and the situation. Yeah, when I get up there I’m going to have to be more physical and re-route them, and then again when I’m at '7,' I've got to play off and I can’t touch them. I've got to mirror them."
Talks of his injury, though, have been nonexistent thus far.
"I don’t even think about it," he said. "The only time I think about is when somebody asks me. But when I’m on the field I don’t think about that. I think about the play and I think about the coverage that I’m in. I put it past me."
If at least, for one weekend.