NAPA — Coach Dennis Allen said that rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden basically is ready to go mentally and physically. The only thing holding back Hayden from taking the next step in his recovery from two surgeries is an abundance of caution on the Raiders part.
That’s understandable, given the Raiders selected Hayden in the first round of the NFL draft in April and signed him to a contract worth more than $10 million.
Allen is so confident in Hayden’s progress that he said Hayden definitely will play an exhibition game at some point, if not the first one.
If Hayden had his way, he would have ditched the red, no-contact jersey that he sports at practice. On more than one occasion, defensive coaches have had to remind Hayden to throttle down and avoid contact.
“He wants to go,” Allen said Monday. “That’s the great thing about him. That speaks to the type of guys that we’re trying to bring in here, guys that love playing football. He wants to practice and play.
“Most of these guys have been doing it since elementary school and that’s all they really know. DJ’s that type of guy, and I’m excited about the fact that he’s ready mentally and physically. But we’re going to take a little bit of time and stay on the cautious side of things and make sure he’s totally ready before we put him in a contact drill.
Tracy Porter and Joselio Hanson are getting the most reps in the slot, while Hayden is spending all his time on the outside. Hayden is getting some reps with the first-team defense as defensive coordinator Jason Tarver gauges just what he has in his newest toy.
To recap, Hayden suffered a ruptured a vein during a freak accident in practice at the University of Houston last November. the kind of injury that Hayden suffered almost always is fatal.
He underwent another surgery in May to remove scar tissue in his abdominal region and wasn’t cleared to practice again until Friday.
— Quarterbacks play was pretty sharp once again, just as it has been for most of camp.
At one point Monday, Matt Flynn, Tyler Wilson, Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin were having their way with the defense.
One particular passing drill featured touchdown passes to tight ends Jeron Mastrud, David Ausberry and Richard Gordon, with Ausberry and Gordon encountering little resistance.
Pryor and Flynn had a couple of misfires, to go with a handful of plays where they would have been sacked if defenders were allowed to tackle them, but by and large, the quarterbacks aren’t having much difficulty with the snap, the dropback, the reads and their throws.
— Backup offensive tackle Alex Barron made quite a showing during one-on-one blocking drills.
He swallowed up rookie defensive end David Bass twice and, for good measure, stoned end Lamarr Houston.
Sure, it’s only a few plays, but Barron is a guy that the Raiders are taking a long look at for the right offensive tackle spot. He’s also getting some time as a backup at left tackle.
— Quite a scare for Lucas Nix today, when he went down in a heap early on in practice, writhing in pain and grabbing at his left knee.
A couple of team trainers rushed to Nix’s aid, evaluated Nix’s condition and decided it was best to take Nix in for further evaluation.
Allen said Nix’s injury fell into the category of normal bumps and bruises associated with the rigors of training camp. Nix might beg to differ, but we’ll take Allen’s word for now.
Nix is competing against Tony Bergstrom for the starting spot at left guard. Therefore, he can’t afford to miss much time, if any.
— Nose tackle Johnny Jones, defensive tackle Vance Walker and defensive lineman Brandon Bair also suffered injuries that were serious enough to keep them off the field for part of practice.
Again, Allen said, these injuries likely aren’t much to worry about in terms of being long-term deals.
— The Raiders didn’t waste any time putting linebacker Omar Gaither to work.
He was in Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday. Less than 24 hours later, he was in Napa playing linebacker for the Raiders.
Allen said the Raiders liked what Gaither did for them in the seven games he played here last season. Therefore, when a slew of linebackers went down with injury, Gaither’s name was the first one that came up.
“You have to know that sooner or later call is going to happen,” Gaither said. “I feel like I played good enough last year to feel like I would be on some team’s roster. I was getting some feelers out there but I finally got a call from Oakland and I was ready to go.”
Gaither played middle linebacker for the Raiders last season. He also has starting experience at the strong-side and weak-side spots. For now, he’s playing in the middle, behind starter Nick Roach.
“His versatility is good for us,” Allen said. “He spent a lot of time at Mike linebacker, that’s where we played him today. That’s where we’ll start him out. But he’s a smart enough player and versatile enough player that he can play a couple of different positions for us.”
— Wide receiver Jacoby Ford was in uniform and on the practice field today. However, he did not participate in any drills during the two-and-one-half-hour practice.
Allen still isn’t divulging the nature of Ford’s injury, which occurred Sunday. For what it’s worth, Ford walked without a limp and didn’t have any obvious signs of injury.
“It’s a little bit more of a precautionary deal,” Allen said. “But we need Jacoby out here. He’s missed a lot of time and he’s got to get some work. He had a couple of good days of practice so it’s unfortunate that he’s a little bit nicked up. But I don’t anticipate him being out real long.”
— Rookie defensive tackle Stacy McGee impressed during one-on-one drills. He displayed the ability to get a big push into the backfield, which is something the Raiders need from their interior linemen.
Vance Walker and Pat Sims are the projected starters and the replacements for departed veterans Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour. Beyond that, the Raiders are hopeful that McGee or someone else, if not more than one player, emerges as a player capable of making an impact along the lines of Desmond Bryant last season.
— There weren’t nearly as many dropped balls today as there was each of the past two days.
Again, Allen said, it’s all part of the process. One day of sure-handed grabs is nice. Two is better. And so on.
“It was better,” Allen said of his receivers’ play. “What we have to do is keep stacking bricks on top of each other. We’re trying to build a foundation with this team of what type of team we’re going to be. We’re trying to find guys to go out and make plays for us. That’s what you do in the NFL.”
Undrafted rookie Greg Jenkins quickly has earned a reputation as a guy that makes difficult catches look easy and drops seemingly routine throws.
Perhaps that’s to be expected from a guy that played quarterback in college and is making the conversion to receiver in the pros.
On Monday, he made two eye-opening grabs despite tight coverage. He made it through the day without any drops, for a change.