- Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The aspect of D.J. Hayden’s game that the Raiders rookie cornerback most wants to work on?
It’s a staple of Oakland’s corners from time immemorial … the bump and run.
“That is something that I’m trying to get down right now,” Hayden said. “In college, you can’t use your hands that much. But in the NFL you make your job a lot easier if you do.”
Hayden is coming off his best and busiest performance of the season, having been on the field for 68 of 75 snaps -- generally he comes in at right cornerback in the Raiders’ nickel defense with Tracy Porter sliding down into the slot -- and picking off San Diego’s Philip Rivers in the end zone for his first career interception.
On the year, the No. 12 overall draft pick out of Houston has a “burn rate” of 61.5 percent, giving up 16 completions on 26 targets for 178 yards with 52 yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus.
In fact, PFF gave him a positive coverage grade of 1.5 against the Chargers, two weeks after a negative-4.9 against Denver, when he also missed six tackles.
Hayden also surrendered the go-ahead touchdown to Washington on a five-yard slant.
“He needs to get tighter, yes, he needs to get tighter,” coach Dennis Allen said at the time. “That’s another one of those learning experiences for him.”
It’s all part of Hayden’s maturation process.
“With a corner with ability, it’s a lot of just trusting in yourself and just challenging [receivers], and just feeling what they’re doing and just continuing to work that technique,” Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “As long as he learns what’s happening, and challenges and competes, gets up there and uses that great ability, moves his feet and get his hands on guys, we’ll see what happens. And when he’s done that he’s played pretty well. When he hasn’t, he’s learned from it.
“That’s what the great cover guys have, ‘Come on, it’s you and I. I like it like this. Let’s go.’”
It’s what Lester Hayes thrived on. It’s what the former Raiders cornerback wants to see out of his fellow native Texan in Hayden, who nearly lost his life after a practice collision at Houston last November when a heart valve tore.
“He’s got sweet feet,” Hayes said. “There are great feet, but he’s got sweet feet. The most important phase of the bump and run is the bump. You must re-route him. No free passes. That’s the phase of D.J.’s game that needs to be shined up. Shine it up.
“Work and work and work and keep shining and work on his bump. Never give a man a free pass.”
Now, Hayden said he was "pretty somewhat familiar" of Hayes, but was not all that schooled in The Judge’s exploits. To be fair, Hayden was born in 1990, four years after Hayes’ last NFL game, a full decade after Hayes had 13 interceptions.
“Sounds nice,” Hayden said of a baker’s dozen in picks, his eyes widening. “Sounds real nice. Sounds beautiful.”
It’s how the Raiders expect to describe Hayden’s play in the near future.
3dEric D. Williams