ALAMEDA – Cornerback DJ Hayden didn’t play much in the Raiders’ victory over the Tennessee Titans. Just five defensive snaps, in fact.
It was a clear demotion in favor of David Amerson, who had the game of his life in Hayden’s stead. It wasn’t a surprise considering the recent performance of both players.
Hayden wasn’t the No. 3 cornerback, either. Neiko Thorpe was part of the nickel package.
Raiders coaches were asked what Hayden, the No. 12 overall pick in 2013, needs to do to get back in the mix. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton said it starts in practice, and inferred that Hayden has struggled in that intra-squad competitive environment.
“If you don’t practice hard and you don’t perform, you won’t play,” Norton said Thursday, speaking generally while answering a question about Hayden. “We have a competitive group and it’s week to week. You play hard, you perform, you’ll play and that’s what practices are for. You can’t waste your time in practice. It’s a time to get better. The only place we have to get better, that players have to get better, is practice, so use your practice time to get better and then you’ll play.”
Head coach Jack Del Rio was asked about that exchange on Friday, and he said the decision to play others over Hayden was all about production.
“I would say it was performance-based,” Del Rio said. “I think taking full advantage of your opportunities and making the most of them. Again, we’re a unit. We’re just looking for production. Guys that play the best are going to play more. It’s really simple. All of our guys have really competed hard. Some have been more productive, and we’re looking to play the guys that are being more productive for us.”
Hayden’s production has been subpar. He has allowed a 72.6 completion percentage for 683 yards, five touchdowns and a 111.4 passer rating. His has solid speed and footwork but struggles making plays on the ball. He has two passes defensed all season, none in the past four weeks.
By contrast, Amerson had six against the Titans and has 19 on the year.
Despite a lack of production, there’s a real possibility Hayden plays a significant role on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Thorpe is questionable with a knee sprain suffered during the practice. If he can’t go, Hayden will step in as the No. 3 corner after Amerson and TJ Carrie.
“We’ll go back to everybody that’s up and active; they will be part of our plan,” Del Rio said. “We’ll utilize everybody that’s available, including him.”