Nearly a year ago now, Raiders cornerback DJ Hayden sat in front of the media thankful for renewed health. That press conference came after the Raiders first OTA session.
It was the last time we’d see the 2013 first-round pick until early October. A foot injury kept him from practicing until then and kept him from playing until an Oct. 26 game against the Cleveland Browns.
It marked another year of promise ravaged by injury. Unlike his rookie year – he missed the offseason program, some of training camp and the final eight games in 2013 – last season wasn’t a lost cause.
Hayden played 10 straight games after returning, and started the final eight. He had 47 tackles, 10 passes defenses and an interception largely playing opposite Tarell Brown. By Hayden standards, that’s significant progress.
Hayden had a solid offseason this go-round and addressed the press after 2015’s first OTA on Tuesday, ready to continue his progress.
"I feel excellent," Hayden said. "Everything is good."
Hayden is a witty fellow with a solid sense of humor, but he clammed up after so many questions about his health. He still can’t escape it, but insists it doesn’t influence his play.
“I’m just going to do what I have to do,” Hayden said. “In the past, some stuff has happened that I can’t control, but I’m focused on the future right now. I pray that nothing happens.”
Any day of practice is a good one for a player with high expectations despite a relative lack of experience. Hayden must continue to grow, but new head coach Jack Del Rio really likes his raw materials.
“You see his feet and he’s got really good feet,” Del Rio said. “He’s super quick. This is a hard-working football team. … I like the way DJ has approached his work thus far.”
Hayden needs to continue his progress and stay healthy because, unless something radical changes, he’s the No. 1 corner. The Raiders didn’t sign a veteran in free agency and has thus far allowed Brown to remain on the market recovering from foot surgery. Dexter McDonald is the only corner drafted, and he came at No. 242 overall.
General manager Reggie McKenzie said this winter he was going young at cornerback, and has put faith in Hayden and second-year pros TJ Carrie and Keith McGill.
“It’s a sign that they believe in us,” Hayden said. “They believe in the young guys to come over and help this team win. I feel like me, TJ, Neiko (Thorpe), Keith [McGill], we are all going to do our thing this year and help this secondary be one of the top units in the National Football League.”