Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden (No. 2) returns a recovered fumble vs. Tulsa in 2012. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Back in June, Raiders rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden had a chance to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
While there, he made a point to visit the room that features the busts of every Hall of Famer, and had his picture taken with the bust of one of the greatest Raiders of all time, cornerback Willie Brown.
“Just seeing all those sculptures, that was probably the highlight of my day,” he wrote on the team’s website, Raiders.com.
Whether Hayden will ever be mentioned in the same breath as great Oakland corners such as Brown, Lester Hayes, Mike Haynes or Nnamdi Asomugha won’t be determined for a long while.
But starting next week, when the Raiders report to summer training camp, Hayden will begin his quest to win a starting job for opening day and solidify a secondary that was regularly shredded in 2012.
Hayden is expected to be ready to practice after having to leave organized team activities (OTAs) this spring to have surgery to remove scar tissue in his abdomen that had built up after his life-threatening injury in 2012 with the University of Houston when he was hit in the chest during a drill. The impact tore a large vein in his chest, an injury that often is fatal. But Hayden pulled through, then built himself back up in the offseason and was drafted by Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie in the first round.
The followup surgery this spring during Raiders OTAs was a setback for Hayden, but isn’t considered serious. Now, the Raiders are eager to see what he can do.
As reporter Rob Rang of the Sports Xchange noted last month, the Raiders coaching staff was very impressed with what they’d seen of Hayden in his limited work since being drafted, citing his “fluidity and ball skills.”
McKenzie, who drafted Hayden after getting assurances that he was 100 percent again, has said that his medical issues from last year in college are “a nonissue for us.”
The Raiders believe Hayden can be a very good NFL cornerback and a foundation for rebuilding the defense.
“His man coverage skills are what set him apart,” McKenzie said of Hayden. “He’s quick and fast, tough and aggressive.” Added the GM: “We want a difference-maker. That’s what he is. He can cover, point blank. He can find the football.”
Beginning next week, the Raiders and their fans will start to see whether Hayden is worthy of those accolades.