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Ken Norton Jr sends strong message to DJ Hayden: "If you don't practice hard... you won't play"

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Last Sunday, DJ Hayden was benched for the first time this season. His start went to David Amerson who had a career game. But Hayden didn't just get demoted, the former first round pick was buried on the depth chart, receiving just five snaps on defense.

Now in his third NFL season, he has been given every opportunity to start and earn the right to retain his spot. And up to this point, he has showed very few moments that would give his coaches confidence he is a viable starter.

How Hayden responds to the benching is important. In that regard defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr didn't pull any punches.

"It's competition and we just want to keep stressing you practice hard, you perform, you'll play and the same thing on the adverse side of it. If you don't practice hard and you don't perform, you won't play," said Norton. "We have a competitive group and it's week to week. You play hard, you perform, you'll play and that's what practices are for. You can't waste your time in practice. It's a time to get better. The only place we have to get better, that players have to get better, is practice, so use your practice time to get better and then you'll play."

Following last week's game, Jack Del Rio said Amerson getting the start over Hayden had more to do with how Amerson was performing.

Amerson was acquired early this season when Washington waived him. Since arriving he steady proved his worth. When TJ Carrie returned to playing cornerback three weeks ago, it looked as if Amerson had earned the right to start and yet Hayden was given the start his first two weeks back.

A week after Amerson had four passes defended against Detroit, including three while defending Calving Johnson, Amerson was named the starter.

Norton Jr went on to say Amerson still has a lot to prove as well.

"He's still emerging," said Norton. "We probably still haven't seen the best that he has to give. We'd really like to see consistency. Anytime you see a game of that magnitude from a player, you want to see him consistently stay at that place now. Now the challenge is can he do that each and every week. Anybody can show up and have one of those games of a lifetime, but can you have that game consistently, week after week? That's the tough thing about being a top athlete. The good ones, they find a way to do it."

This kind of candor could be just what this young, developing group needs to be sure they never let up. Let's not forget Norton came over from Seattle, where they boast the 'Legion of Boom', arguably the best secondary in the NFL over the past few years. A group that helped lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl win.

Having success in Oakland that even closely resembles what he saw in Seattle means players don't get handed anything. That includes former top picks.