ALAMEDA – Raiders cornerback DJ Hayden couldn’t participate in Thursday’s minicamp practice. Head coach Jack Del Rio, generally loath to provide injury updates, said it was a little tweak and “nothing major.”
Hayden was active in the rest of the Raiders offseason program, from conditioning portions through OTAs and most all of this week’s minicamp. Thursday's ailment was the only setback in what Del Rio termed a productive period for the 2013 first-round pick.
Hayden saw significant time in the slot with the first-unit nickel package, as the Raiders attempt to round out their cornerback corps behind Sean Smith and David Amerson.
Hayden has had a largely disappointing NFL tenure due to injury his first two years and ineffectiveness last season. Smith said earlier this year Hayden could start fresh in 2016 and turn things around.
The Raiders hope that’s the case, even if a starting outside cornerback spot isn’t readily available.
Del Rio echoed that sentiment unprompted on Thursday and said this offseason was key in his development.
“DJ Hayden had a really good spring. He really did,” Del Rio said. “…I’m excited about his development. I saw a point earlier in the offseason where Sean was being questioned about the other DBs and I think he said, ‘Hey, you have a chance to redefine yourself.’ I really believe that. As a player, it’s never too late. You can redefine yourself, turn the corner and peel labels off that maybe people have for you and create your own. I feel like he’s on his way to doing that this year.”
The Raiders declined the fifth-year team option available to first-round picks – it would’ve locked in an $8 million salary in 2017 – but hope Hayden becomes a productive player in silver and black. Hayden has great quickness agility, but must avoid penalties and show better ball skills to thrive at this level. He’ll have to fend off TJ Carrie and Neiko Thorpe for the nickel back spot so crucial in a pass-happy NFL, and Del Rio thinks he has the skill set to do so.
“He has terrific foot quickness,” Del Rio said. “He’s intelligent. Those things are definitely factors that help you in that slot.”
Hayden has 128 tackles, 20 passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles in 34 games played over three seasons.