As the Oakland Raiders continue through their first set of Organized Team Activities, the coaches are getting their first evaluation of where players have improved from a season ago. DJ Hayden may be one of the most important pieces for the Raiders success in 2014. He had many setbacks in his rookie year, mostly from injuries, but the former first round pick is bulked up and more prepared for the upcoming season.
“I think really he’s light years ahead of where he was at this point last year, not just from a physical standpoint, but really from a mental standpoint too,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said of Hayden. “I think he realizes now that everything is going to be fine. He is going to be OK, and he can really focus in on getting better as a football player. I like what I’ve seen out of DJ so far. He still has a lot of things he has to learn. He is still kind of a quasi-rookie out there, but I am looking forward to his development and I think there are some good things in store for him.”
At this point, everyone knows about Hayden severed heart vein in college that almost cost him his life. During his rookie season, Hayden missed OTAs because of surgery on scar tissue from that injury and then missed the back end of the 2013 season with a sports hernia. To combat those setbacks, Hayden dedicated himself to getting bigger and stronger this offseason by eating better and lifting.
“It will definitely be beneficial, me being a little heavier and a lot stronger, because we have big receivers in this league and I think it will be good for you to be somewhat big,” Hayden said. “I definitely want to be stronger so I can take on blocks, big receivers and be able to tackle big running backs, so that was one of my goals.”
Although Hayden was unable to show much during his rookie season, his potential was realized in a game against the San Diego Chargers. Hayden amassed seven tackles and tallied a game securing interception in the endzone. Those are the type of efforts the Raiders are counting on from Hayden consistently in 2014. That is the expectation Hayden has for himself and the team.
“I feel like not only me, not only do I have something to prove, but I feel like we all have something to prove,” Hayden said. “Because with our season last year, we have to do way better now. We’re way better than that and I just can’t wait to get this season going.”
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