Last Sunday, when DJ Hayden limped to the sideline, the Raiders called upon Antonio Hamilton to enter the game. The most common response to this move was “Who?”, which seems appropriate considering what we’d seen from Hamilton before that. Namely nothing.
He is an undrafted rookie out of South Carolina State who was hanging around the bubble come the start of the season and many thought he wouldn’t even make the team. But the coaches saw potential in him even when he didn’t.
“It’s been great. The coaches, they saw something in me that I really didn’t think I had in me. They just felt like I was going to be able to be some type of contribution to the team. Whether it was on defense or stepping up mainly as I’ve been doing, playing on special teams whenever they activated me, so everything’s been great.”
“They liked my speed, my size, and how physical I played. They like how smart I was, how quick I was able to pick on different things, playing corner and nickel. They really liked that a lot.”
Not only did Hamilton make the team, but he has been active this season more often (4 times) than last year’s 7th round pick, Dexter McDonald (one time).
It was the knee injury to starter David Amerson that had DJ Hayden starting and therefore Hamilton active for the first time since week nine. Going from inactive to reserve, to being thrust into duties covering the opponent’s top receiver on the outside can be a shock to the system. It certainly was for Hamilton.
“It was crazy,” said Hamilton. “Fourth quarter, up by three, three minutes left. It was like, I felt the pressure being on me ‘hey, we need you to do this, we need you to do that’, so that was kinda like having my head spinning. My team, they rallied around me, they were like ‘hey, play your technique, your fundamentals and just stay on top and do everything you need to do. I ended up slipping on the second play, so it coulda been a touchdown on me, but it happened to go on the other side. It was great, it was great.”
Newton went right after Hamilton who was covering Devin Funchess. The result was an 8-yard completion. The touchdown came on the next play to Kelvin Benjamin with Sean Smith covering him on the other side. That put the Panthers up 32-24 with 13:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Where Hamilton got nervous was the final possession by the Panthers in which they had 1:45 left to try and drive for the tie or the win. They had two completions on that drive, neither of which were given up by Hamilton. The first was to Greg Olsen for 20 yards and it was Hamilton who made the stop.
In total Hamilton held up well under the circumstances. He played 12 snaps and gave up two catches for 19 yards.
Whether he gets the nod again will depend on Amerson, who has been limited in practice all week and is officially questionable for the game. Should he again be a no go, Hamilton will very likely step in again, and could even start on the outside with TJ Carrie coming in as the slot, where Hayden played most of the season.
If that happens, Dexter McDonald would also likely be activated as the fourth corner.
“It’s all coach’s decision,” Hamilton said. “We got Dexter McDonald who also has been here for a year’s time. It’s between me and him. I’m still developing and I think they kinda see that.”
If you were wondering to yourself if the Raiders would miss DJ Hayden if he were gone, we may be about to find out.