It is not often you see a red non-contact jersey in practice with a number above the teens. Typically those jerseys are reserved for the quarterbacks and kickers. But today, there was a red 25 on the field in Raiders practice. It was rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden.
Hayden was back at his first practice since his surgery last May to remove scar tissue from in abdomen. Prior to that, he had only attended rookie minicamps for the Raiders and that was the extent of anything close to actual football since he suffered his life-threatening heart injury his senior season at the University of Houston.
"It's been nine, 10 months since he's actually really played football," Dennis Allen said of Hayden. "He missed the offseason program, or really most of the OTAs and minicamp, so we want to work him back into football condition. We're going to limit some of the contact drills that we do with him and really bring him along - I don't know if I would say slowly, but we're not just going to throw him into the fire right away."
This comes less than a day after the team had placed Hayden on the non-football injury list. With any player put on that list, they need only pass a physical to be back at practice. Hayden passed that physical this morning and was on the field with his teammates today.
"Really, the [non-football injury list] was more of a precautionary thing," said Allen. "We put him through a workout yesterday just to make sure and evaluated how he responded this morning. He was fine, so we cleared him to play."
Hayden was in good spirits about the decision. For him, it was more important that he be on the field practicing at all, red jersey or otherwise.
"I'm just happy to be out there," said Hayden. "If I gotta have a red jersey on, that's what it is. I'm cool with it. Happy. . . It's like team protocol. I don't mind. As long as I'm out there, I'm fine."
The surgery he had in May was not considered serious, but with any surgery, there is recovery time required. Hayden spent a couple days in the hospital initially but even after being released, the business of healing must take place before any talk of preparing for football can take place.
The process began, as Hayden says it was to "Heal, recover, get my appetite back..." and that whole process took a good portion of the past two months. Once that is over, then he must go through rehabilitation. According to Hayden, he has had just 2-3 weeks to actually attempt to get back in football shape. That's not a lot of time.
Even so, he was fully active in drills and didn't look as if he was slow to re-adjust. Dennis Allen and Hayden both said he was not limited physically and Hayden said he was back in "football shape."
No timetable yet for the red jersey to retire.