A year ago, D.J. Hayden went to Houston to spend some time with Detroit Lions defensive backs Glover Quin and Darius Slay to get some offseason workouts in. At the time, he couldn’t have anticipated what happened this week.
Hayden, a former first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders, will now join Quin and Slay as teammates in Detroit -- signing with the Lions and turning that workout group into a mini-practice of sorts for Lions defensive backs if they do it again this spring.
“I’ve talked to both of them and that’s definitely something I’m interested in,” Hayden said. “Just so we can get our chemistry down because we a team now. So for us to get our chemistry down, it would be great for the team so we can win games this year.”
The Lions are hoping Hayden can fulfill the potential he showed in college at Houston, where he was one of the top cornerbacks in the country before suffering a life-threating heart injury during practice. The injury altered how he approaches his life -- he said he is thankful for even being able to walk -- and how he’s approached the other injuries he’s had in his career.
Those injuries, a hamstring injury last season, a foot injury in 2014 and a groin injury his rookie year in 2013, had hampered him in the four years he was in Oakland, costing him 19 games. The 5-foot-11 corner also moved from being an outside cornerback into the slot last season.
He found rhythm there and a role before the hamstring injury ended his season after Week 12. He had 37 tackles last year and forced a fumble. Moving inside, he said, forced him to be more cognizant of playing against the run.
“When you inside, you basically are almost like another linebacker, so you gotta run fit, play a little bit faster,” Hayden said. “On the outside, you just kind of, you don’t have to worry about the run as much. You still do, though.
“On the inside, you kind of gotta run fit. You got more action on the inside.”
Hayden said he’s open to playing anywhere for the Lions -- outside corner, inside corner and on special teams -- but he had his most success last season. And considering some of Detroit’s needs, that might be where he fits the best as well.
In Detroit, Hayden likely will compete with Quandre Diggs and Adairius Barnes for the nickel corner role. He could push Nevin Lawson for a starting role on the outside and, like Lawson, he offers Detroit some flexibility with corners because Lawson can play inside and outside as well.
But there’s little question he has the confidence of a defensive back -- something his workout partners-turned-teammates have shown over and over again in Detroit. Now, they’ll just have to figure out how they all work together on the field.
“I’m like a fast-twitch guy,” Hayden said. “I’m not the tallest corner in the league, but I feel like I can match up with any receiver or, really, anybody.
“I just want to make plays, work hard and make plays.”