In November, a collision on a practice field nearly killed D.J. Hayden, and on Monday the playmaking cornerback will have his first collision at practice as a member of the Oakland Raiders with one of his own teammates in Napa.
After finally being cleared by doctors for full contact, the Raiders 12th overall pick from the 2013 NFL Draft was running around at practice Sunday without a red no-contact jersey for the very first time — but Sundays involve no pads or hitting.
And so today Hayden will race towards a Raider teammate while traveling at a high rate of speed to hit someone, or be hit, for the first time at a Raider practice. And the person most excited about D.J. Hayden laying some wood on somebody else has to be Hayden, who snuck onto the practice field a couple different times without his no-contact jersey — in an effort to start hitting something or someone.
I’m looking forward to my first NFL game. Can’t wait to get out there and play. I wanna go ahead and shake the rust off. Get wet a little bit. Can’t wait. . . I wanna play. I want the game to hurry up and come but I wanna enjoy that moment, playing in the game.
The Raiders need Hayden to adapt to the NFL physicality quickly. Their third preseason game is in Oakland on Friday, and it’d be nice if D.J. could become a Hall of Fame caliber corner by Saturday morning, or Sunday at the latest, because the Raiders are in desperate need of some true impact players.
Great teams have several difference makers, average NFL teams have a handful, but who are the Raiders’ game-changers, one or two of these guys?
Lamarr Houston, Tyvon Branch, Jared Veldheer, Denarius Moore, Marcel Reece?
Darren McFadden, a running back who can’t stay healthy, obviously comes up, but he will probably be on the decline in a couple years. Sio Moore, a linebacker taken early in round three of this year’s draft, has shown flashes of his promise in the preseason, but he isn’t going to dominate from day one in 2013.
Hayden is the Raiders’ best chance to find a star on their current roster. The Raiders have only ever drafted two corners in the Top 15 of any AFL or NFL draft, and both made plays. The first was Terry McDaniel, a five-time Pro Bowler taken ninth overall in 1988 who snagged 35 career interceptions. The second was Charles Woodson, who went fourth overall in 1998, and will go down as one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history. Chuck will be tutoring the Raiders’ top rookie while playing safety in Oakland this fall.
“It’s good to know that he’s cleared and he’ll get a chance to get out there and to play at this level, play in the NFL and get a chance to get his feet wet and get a taste of it this weekend,” said Woodson.
No pressure D.J. — just five Pro Bowls or more please.
Everyone will be watching on Monday, and wondering what it’s going to feel like physically, and mentally, when the 23-year-old Hayden is involved in a collision at practice for the first time since he almost died in a collision at practice?
It’s sure to become one of the most talked about preseason tackles in Raider history, and one of the most important answers about the 2013 roster.
How can you not be pulling for a young man like D.J. Hayden on a day like this?