ALAMEDA, California — Oakland cornerback DJ Hayden practiced for the first time since breaking his foot in June, a potential boost for the Raiders' struggling defense.
The 12th overall pick in 2013, Hayden has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list all season. The oft-injured cornerback was limited to eight games as a rookie and was on target to return this season before needing surgery for a stress fracture in his right foot.
Hayden wore an all-white uniform at practice Wednesday, as did the rest of the defense. He moved around fine and showed no lingering problems from the layoff. The second-year defensive back even made an interception, then took some ribbing from interim coach Tony Sparano.
"He grabbed the ball, got halfway down the field and stops," Sparano said. "So I asked him if he forgot what to do with it after he catches that thing."
Hayden could be forgiven for being a bit rusty.
He hadn't practiced since injuring his foot during offseason workouts and has missed 13 consecutive regular-season games with a variety of ailments.
"It feels awesome to be back," Hayden said. "I'm glad I'm out there with my teammates. I just want to make plays, that's it. I had to wait six weeks. I waited six weeks and now it's my time to play."
The Raiders have three weeks to activate Hayden from the PUP list and add him to the 53-man roster or put him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Hayden said he feels capable of playing this week.
Sparano, who took over when Dennis Allen was fired Sept. 29, isn't so sure.
"I anticipate taking it day by day and evaluating it with coaches and with (general manager Reggie McKenzie), to really see where we are with him," Sparano said. "He hasn't played in a long time so we don't want to hurry the process if we don't have to, and we don't right at this second. When he does come back we'll need him to factor in."
The winless Raiders will take all the healthy bodies in the secondary they can get.
Starting safety Tyvon Branch was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury on Sept. 24, the second consecutive year Branch has suffered an early season-ending injury. Backup cornerback Taiwan Jones was also put on IR due to a foot injury.
Oakland's defense is 31st overall heading into Sunday's home game against Arizona and former Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer.
The majority of problems have come against the run, though Oakland's opponents are completing a league-high 70 percent of their pass attempts.
"I felt like I was 100 percent probably three weeks ago, running and cutting," Hayden said. "I just had to wait my time. I waited and now it's my time."
There have been concerns about Hayden's health ever since college when he needed emergency surgery for a near-fatal heart injury he suffered his senior season at Houston.
McKenzie rolled the dice and used a first-round pick to get Hayden. It's been a rough go for both sides ever since.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Hayden missed part of training camp last year after requiring abdominal surgery that stemmed from the earlier procedure. He played in eight games and struggled to keep up with receivers, looked lost at times in coverage and was an easy target for opposing quarterbacks.
Yet another surgery — this one for a sports hernia — landed Hayden on injured reserve Nov. 20. That was followed up by the foot injury he suffered during a minicamp in May, which was initially diagnosed as a rolled ankle before an MRI revealed the stress fracture.
"DJ needs to just get out there and start having small successes, small successes every day on the practice field," Sparano said. "Today was a small success. He went out there and got a chance to run around and be with his teammates. That's an important first step."
NOTES: QB Derek Carr is still nursing a sore knee and ankle but is moving around fine in workouts. ... RT Khalif Barnes (quad), FB Marcel Reece (quad), DE Justin Tuck (knee), WR Vincent Brown (hamstring) and DB Keith McGill (groin) did not practice.
All content copyright ©2014 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.