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ALAMEDA -– DJ Hayden had an interception in Wednesday’s practice, but that wasn’t the highlight of his day.
Just being on the practice field was enough to make the Raiders second-year corner smile.
Hayden took a six-week hiatus due to Physically Unable to Perform list guidelines, which mandate a player skip the first six weeks of the season. Hayden was eligible to practice on Wednesday, and was out there as a full participant.
Hayden’s been out since late May, when he suffered a stress fracture in his right foot. Hayden was in good spirits during a two-minute bout with the press, a quick session where it became clear that Hayden is healthy and ready to go.
“I felt 100 percent three weeks ago in terms of running and cutting, but I had to wait it out,” Hayden said. “Now it’s my time.”
Whether that time starts Sunday against Arizona remains in question. Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano said the team won’t rush him back.
“He hasn’t played in a long time, so we don’t want to hurry the process here if we don’t have to, and we don’t right at this second,” Sparano said. “But when DJ is ready to go, we certainly can use him. We’re just going to make sure he’s ready to go and make sure everything is right.”
Staying physically right has been troublesome for the young man with a long injury history. He was drafted No. 12 overall last season despite recent heart surgery, had abdominal surgery last offseason and suffered a sports hernia that ended his rookie season eight games in.
Hayden is already been labeled injury prone, something he’s not fond of wearing. Health has hindered his progress, and Hayden was excited to make improvements after an offseason where he gained 5-to-10 pounds of muscle and was committed to playing more aggressive coverage.
Being out has raised questions about his confidence, but Sparano has a remedy for those issues.
“DJ needs to just get out there and start having small successes every day on the practice field,” Sparano said. “Today was a small success. He went out there and he got a chance to run around a little bit and be with his teammates, and that’s an important first step. Then I think there are some more small successes coming up where maybe his workload increases a little bit. Whenever we decide, hopefully as we get to that point, that he gets involved in a ball game and what his role is in that game at that time, he’ll have some more.
"To create some small successes I think would be the biggest factor for him right now, as far as confidence goes.”
Hayden isn’t thinking about the future, or even when he can get into a game. He’s focused on the present, staying healthy and putting himself in prime position to make plays upon his return.
“I’m taking it one day at a time,” Hayden said. “I’m going to watch film, critique myself and be my biggest critic. I’m going to work on being a better football player. I haven’t been one the field since OTAs, so I have to get back in the swing of things. I’m going to shake this rust, get back out there and ball.”