After having his rookie season marred by injuries, CB DJ Hayden excitedly rolled into the Oakland Raiders‘ offseason program bulked up, in shape and ready to compete. Hayden looked forward to getting past a season in which – after having his entire offseason wiped out as he recovered from abdominal surgery – he struggled to adjust to the pro game. And if that weren’t enough, a severe groin injury left Hayden sidelined for the last half of the season. Given all he’s gone through, Hayden can’t really be blamed for being antsy and for being ready to play some football.
But there he was again, standing on the sidelines for Monday’s OTA session in a walking boot, unable to practice with his team.
It’s a situation that has to be all too familiar to the second-year defensive back as well as for the Raiders and one that’s all too discouraging. HC Dennis Allen ,though, in speaking to Raiders’ beat writer Vic Tafur, confirmed that Hayden had rolled his ankle during practice but downplayed the seriousness of the injury saying, “I don’t expect it to be anything serious.”
Nobody hopes that is more true than Hayden himself, who is working hard to rebound from a tough rookie campaign and have a breakout season in 2014. Also speaking to Tafur just last week, Hayden was quoted as saying, “I’m great. I’m feeling a whole lot better. I’ve been lifting weights, working out, and I actually got a full offseason in, so I’m ready. I’m ready for the season to start.”
It’s a discouraging turn of events for the young defensive back as he’d been making quite an impression with the coaching staff in the early days of OTAs with his new bulked up frame, athleticism and the preparation he’s put into his offseason program Speaking to ESPN’s NFL Nation, Allen said of Hayden:
“I think he’s light years ahead of where he was at this point last year. Not just from a physical standpoint, but really from a mental standpoint too.”
It’s been expected that he would start opposite newly acquired veteran CB Tarell Brown in Oakland’s secondary with another new acquisition, Carlos Rogers coming in for nickel packages. And though he struggled last season, the Raiders’ coaching staff feels he’s ready to move to the next level, towards justifying the first-round pick the team used on him and toward being an elite corner in the NFL.
Hayden figures to be a key piece in Oakland’s rebuilt defense, and the team can’t afford to lose him again – especially not in the pass happy AFC West where secondaries are constantly being tested and cornerbacks must perform at the highest level.
Hayden, and the Raider Nation as a whole are hoping that Allen is right and that his injury is not serious, does not linger and does not impact his continued growth and development.