The Raiders will get their first look at first-round cornerback D.J. Hayden in game action tonight when they face the Bears in a preseason game in Oakland. It's remarkable that Hayden is even playing football again, especially after suffering a near-fatal collison in practice that ended his college career at Houston last season.
The Raiders took a gamble by drafting Hayden 12th overall, but they couldn't pass up his potential, even though some teams took him off their board because of the injury. Hayden was limited through much of training camp after undergoing abdominal surgery in May to heal scarring from the original injury.
"I'm looking forward to my first NFL game. Can't wait to get out there and play," Hayden said. "I want to go ahead and shake the rust off. Get wet a little bit. Can't wait."
A few days after a Nov. 3 game against East Carolina, Hayden was injured when he collided with a teammate at practice. He was rushed into emergency surgery after doctors discovered a tear of the inferior vena cava, a large vein that carries blood from the lower part of the body to the heart. The injury is fatal in most cases, and often occurs in high-speed car accidents.
But Hayden was cleared to return to football before the draft, and the Raiders took him early in the first round.
"I just want to see him play football," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "It's been a while since he's really had an opportunity to go out and play real football. I'm looking forward to watching him. He's done some really good things in this camp. He's got exceptional coverage skills. I think everyone is anxious to see when he has his first real live contact."
Hayden will wear an extra flap over his chest for added protection, although he said it makes it look like he has a beer belly. He wore the extra equipment in warmups last week against the Saints, although he didn't play in the game.
"They teased me a little bit," he said. "It's like putting some cookies in front of a kid and tell him, 'you can't eat them, but look at them.' But I'm all right."