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Saturday, May 11, 2013
Injury behind him, Raiders CB Hayden gets to work

Associated Press

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Since being selected with the 12th overall pick in the draft, Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden has become a bit of a national celebrity due to the story of his near-fatal injury six months ago.

As much as he would prefer otherwise, the rookie gets questioned about it just about everywhere he goes.

Hayden understands why, of course. It's just that his focus is elsewhere these days.

"The only time I think about it is when somebody asks me," Hayden said Saturday. "But when I'm on the field I don't think about that. I think about the play and I think about the coverage that I'm in. I put (the injury) past me."

At least now Hayden can find some relief on the field.

For the first time since tearing a blood vessel off of his heart following an on-field collision with a college teammate, Hayden is back in helmet and pads while participating in Oakland's three-day rookie mini-camp.

The former Houston standout has had his moments, too. Hayden whiffed attempting to jam a wide receiver near the line of scrimmage but recovered quickly and broke the pass up just as it was nearing the receiver's hands.

Plays like that are reminiscent of the ones Hayden made in college where he was widely regarded as one of the top cornerbacks in college before getting hurt.

The Raiders certainly think he can get back to that level. They traded down from the third spot in the first round to acquire an additional pick in the draft, then pounced on Hayden when their turn came up.

So far he's done nothing to disappoint -- though Hayden is still nursing a sore hamstring that he hurt during pre-draft workouts.

"He's still not quite 100 percent but he's been out there working through it," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "I'm pleased with where D.J.'s at. It's going to be a learning process. It's putting one foot in front of the other. When it comes time to play games this September, I think he'll be ready to roll."

Few people expected that. Some, including Hayden himself, wondered if he would simply walk again after what happened last November.

Hayden had to be rushed to the hospital with a life-threatening injury after colliding with a Houston teammate during practice. He suffered a torn blood vessel off the back of his heart -- an injury that has a significantly high fatality rate -- and underwent major surgery as a result.

Thoughts of football seemed miles away at the time, which is why Hayden flashed a huge grin when asked what it felt like to get back to practice.

"Oh man it felt so great just to get back out there, put the helmet back on and just actually be on the field and in practice," Hayden said. "It felt like old times. I came here, took a knee, said a little prayer then just went out there."

The Raiders are banking that Hayden can help stabilize a secondary that was among the NFL's weakest units in 2012. He had six interceptions -- including three returns for touchdown -- in 22 games with the Cougars.

Because the NFL restricts tackling and taking players to the ground during offseason practices, most of Hayden's work during the rookie minicamp came in individual position drills or in 7-on-7 segments.

He won't get his first real hit until the Raiders open training camp in Napa on July 25.

"I'm just trying to soak it all in like a sponge," Hayden said. "It's nothing I can't handle. I'm taking notes, trying to learn everything, just trying to get better."

Game notes
The rookie mini-camp concludes Sunday with no media access. ... Owner Mark Davis and general manager Reggie McKenzie chatted briefly on the sidelines during the practice. Davis' late father, Al, was always in attendance during offseason workouts before he passed away in October 2011. ... Former Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter stood alongside Davis for the first hour of practice. Porter has been out of the NFL since 2008.