A critical phase for D.J. Hayden

Sunday is a vital day for D.J. Hayden.

He is truly a football player again.

The Oakland Raiders’ rookie cornerback has been cleared for contact and he will begin fully practicing with his teammates Sunday. He is expected to make his preseason debut Friday against Chicago. Hayden had been spending most of training camp wearing a red jersey (like quarterbacks), meaning he could not have any contact.

Hayden, the No. 12 overall pick in the April draft, had life-threatening heart surgery last November after taking a hit on the practice field while at the University of Houston. Hayden then had stomach surgery this offseason to repair scar tissue stemming from the original surgery.

But it appears Hayden is now ready to play fully. Hayden is somewhat behind, but the fact that he has been on the practice field in a non-contact role is vital. Oakland coach Dennis Allen told reporters that the next few weeks are crucial for Hayden. He is expected to be a starter at a big need area in Oakland.

“It’ll be good to get him in a game situation and let him get out there and play,” Allen said. “We brought him to New Orleans with us this week, we let him go through the pre-game warm ups, again to try and give him that feeling of being back out there on the field again, and I think he’s anxious and excited about getting an opportunity to play this week.”

Meanwhile, Allen announced tight end David Ausberry will miss the rest of the preseason with a shoulder injury. Ausberry is very much in the mix of young tight ends along with Richard Gordon, and rookies Nick Kasa and Mychel Rivera. At this point, Ausberry is probably the most advanced of the group.