Hayden is getting first- and second-team snaps at defensive tackle in training camp and when he recovered a fumble on the first defensive snap of the preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday night, it showed the Cowboys' coaches this was indeed a good pickup.
"I've been doing a pretty good job," Hayden said. "I was out all of last year of football and trying to get my feet back. Last week's game was a good steppingstone for me. It hasn't been that long, but it's been good. I got to keep coming out here each day and getting better on my craft."
Hayden, a 2008 sixth-round pick by the Carolina Panthers, has started 13 games in his career. But after three seasons in Carolina he went to Cincinnati and reached an injury settlement in 2012 after suffering a high ankle sprain during the preseason.
It normally takes four to six weeks to recover from that injury, and when he did, the phone didn't ring. Hayden didn't get a call even to work out for teams.
"It sucked waiting by the phone, and it's not fun," Hayden said. "But I'm just glad this organization gave me a second opportunity to come out and prove myself."
Injuries to the defensive line opened the door for Hayden to get these first-team snaps, and if and when starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff returns, Hayden, if he continues to play well, could secure a spot on the 53-man roster.
"I've been in it my whole career in the NFL," Hayden said of the scheme. "I've done the same thing each year and it's just different terminology for me, but it’s the same steps. I can play all over the field. I can play the three technique, the nose. I'm used to being in a 4-3 scheme."