Hayden: 'I can't wait to get that first contact in there'
The Raiders will begin padded practices on Sunday, but it is unclear if D.J. Hayden will be cleared for full contact. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
NAPA – D.J. Hayden woke up Friday morning on the non-football injury list. A few hours later, the Raiders first-round draft pick found himself on the practice field.
The cornerback selected No. 12 overall and signed Thursday afternoon passed a team administered physical and was clear to participate in the Raiders’ first training camp practice at the Napa Valley Marriott.
[RELATED: Hayden activated for training camp]
Hayden was active and wanted to practice fully, but he wasn't allowed to jump in with both feet. He wore a red non-contact jersey (as quarterbacks do) and was limited to individual work, punt receiving and coverage in passing drills.
“We’re going to limit some of the contact drills that we do with him,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “…We’re not just going to throw him into the fire right away.”
Limited as he was, it was a major milestone in Hayden's return to health. Hayden missed most of the offseason program due to surgery on May 28 that removed scar tissue from his abdomen. He hasn’t played football since rupturing his inferior vena cava in a November practice with the University of Houston.
Hadyen declared himself in football shape. Allen said the kid’s physically fine, but the layoff left Hayden a ways away from understanding the scheme.
“As far as understanding what to do in the game of pro football, he’s got a long way to go,” Allen said. “This training camp. As it is with all rookies, it's going to be important for him.”
Hayden’s progress will be monitored closely throughout camp to ensure he isn't risking further injury.
Hayden relished his return to football, but he still doesn’t feel completely normal. That won’t come until he takes the red jersey off, puts the pads on and makes solid contact. His blood vessel ruptured the last time that happened, and the incident could’ve killed him.
The next hit doesn't scare Hayden at all. In fact, he'd like to get it over with.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Hayden said. “I can’t wait to get that first contact in. Then I can feel that sense of relief, like I’m all right.”
The Raiders will practice in full pads on Sunday, but Hayden won’t get the chance to tackle until the team deems him ready.
“We’re going to evaluate him as we go along and we’ll see how cautious we need to be,” Allen said. “But from a medical standpoint, we really don’t see any challenges. DJ’s mind-set is that he’s ready to roll.”
Hayden says he's okay with the red jersey right now. His teammates aren't. They want to see Hayden as advertised, the one who wowed the front office before the draft and impressed Charles Woodson in a private talk.
"During the one conversation where we talked in depth, I just asked him if he loved football. He said that he did," Woodson said. "That’s what you’re looking for in a young player, just a guy that loves football. We’re all going to make a lot of money in this league. But the real test is what happens after you get the money. Do you still love to play the game? That’s the one thing I got from him, he loves football. I know that he’ll do everything he can to get himself back, get himself healthy so he can get out there and take that red jersey off. We don’t like him having that thing on."