This was the season D.J. Hayden was going to become an impact player.
He had a strong offseason program, gained some strength and was totally fit. As the summer approached, he was ready to seize a starting cornerback job.
But after suffering a stress fracture in his foot, that’s not going to happen.
Hayden this week was officially placed on the physically unable to perform list, so he’s guaranteed to sit out at least the first six games of the regular season. Plus, he’s missed valuable practice and playing time. It’s possible that 2014 will be another lost season for the team’s No. 1 draft pick of 2013.
Now the Raiders enter their final preseason game Thursday night vs. the Seahawks with Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers set as the starting cornerbacks. When in their nickel package, Rogers will switch to cover the slot receiver, but that still leaves a job open for the third cornerback job. And how the candidates fare against Seattle could play a large role in determining the winner.
Chimdi Chekwa was one candidate, but he won’t play Thursday because of a minor injury. He could come back in time for the season opener on Sept. 7, or soon after, so he’s not out of the picture.
But the two leading candidates to get the call for opening day now are rookie T.J. Carrie, the seventh-round pick from Ohio University, and free-agent Neiko Thorpe, a former Auburn and Kansas City Chiefs player who last season played in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts.
Thorpe has impressed Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver with his mental focus, saying his mindest is “what you’re looking for.” He’s also praised Carrie’s toughness and ability to bounce back from a mistake and learn.
He likes what he’s seen from both players and the competition isn’t finished.
“I think we’ve had good competition at the corner position through camp and through the preseason,” Tarver told the Bay Area media after practice Tuesday. “There’ve been some players that step up like T.J. Carrie and Neiko, and that battle will still be going on this week. … I’m excited to see these guys play, because they both did some good things last week and they’ve both done good things throughout camp.”
Tarver said he’s “excited to watch our corners play this week.”
Both Carrie and Thorpe are coming off solid games against the Packers last week. As Christopher Hansen of Bleacher Report pointed out, Carrie was assigned to cover veteran standout receiver Jordy Nelson and allowed two catches on four targets for just 19 yards – although one of those was for a touchdown. Thorpe, meanwhile, didn’t allow a catch in four throws to receivers he was covering.
Though the Raiders obviously are disappointed they won’t have Hayden to start the season, Tarver says he’s comfortable going forward with either Carrie or Thorpe because of how they’ve learned and played this summer.
“The mentally tough ones come right back,” he said. “T.J.’s bounced right back. Neiko’s bounced right back. Our young DBs have bounced right back and that’s the sign of ones that, number one, you want to play with as a coach and number two, you want them on your team.”