Finally, this could be DJ Hayden’s year.
After missing half of his rookie 2013 season because of injury and then wading through more injury problems that set him back at the start of the 2014 season, the cornerback is penciled in as a possible starter in 2015.
On Tuesday, after the first day of organized team activities (OTAs), Hayden indicated he’s completely healthy.
“Exellent,” he told reporters, when asked about his fitness. “Everything is good.”
And that’s good news for an Oakland defense that is counting on young cornerbacks such as Hayden, TJ Carrie, Keith McGill and Neiko Thorpe to take some big steps forward in 2015.
Hayden, the team’s No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, began to show his potential over the second half of last season when he started eight games. Over that span he had an interception, 10 passes defensed and was in on 42 tackles.
His performance prompted former head coach Tony Sparano and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver to be enthusiastic about his progress.
In December, Tarver talked about Hayden’s improvement in all areas – including his strength, which had been a problem -- and his continued need to pay attention to his technique.
“When he stays in his technique, he’s been very, very, very good,” Tarver said.
On Tuesday, Hayden referenced the physical setbacks he had in his final season at the University of Houston and first two years in the NFL.
“In the past, some stuff has happened that I can’t control,” he said. “But I’m focused on the future right now. I pray that nothing happens.”
New head coach Jack Del Rio has spoken highly of Hayden, and believes he can be a very good NFL cornerback. In February, Del Rio said Hayden has “special (cornerback) feet.” The key, said Del Rio, will be for Hayden to stay healthy, get in his reps and exhibition snaps, and be able to settle in for a long period.
Now, Hayden says he and the other young cornerbacks are ready to make their mark, and he believes new defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. will have a strong unit in 2015.
“We are going to be a pretty tough defense,” Hayden said. “I like what (Norton) brings to the table, him and all the coaches. I fell like we definitely are getting better each and every week.”