In what will be the biggest test of his young NFL career, Hayden figures to get his most extensive playing time yet as the Raiders attempt to slow down the red-hot Broncos and a Manning-led offense that has scored more than 40 points in each of its first two games.
Hayden, the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft, is eager to find out how he’ll stand up against the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
“Your technique has to be even better this week,” Hayden said Thursday. “Your technique, alignment, assignments, key reads ... it all has to be better because you’re going against a great player. Just OK is not going to cut it.”
Hayden is the youngest and least experienced member of the Raiders’ defensive secondary, and that has made him a target for opposing quarterbacks.
Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck sought him out repeatedly in the opener, and Jacksonville’s Chad Henne followed suit in going after the first-round draft pick multiple times last week. In Manning, Hayden and the Raiders (1-1) face an entirely different type of challenge altogether.
Denver’s quarterback has already thrown for more yards and touchdowns without an interception in two games than any player in NFL history.
The 37-year-old Manning also has a 109.0 passer rating while continuing his steady climb up the NFL’s career passing charts. “He’s an accurate quarterback,” Hayden said. “He tries to see what the defense is doing and looks at the leverages and goes from there. We have to get pressure up front through the pocket.”
The Raiders have gotten off to a surprisingly fast start defensively this season. They lead the NFL with nine sacks and are allowing just 15 points a game while running defensive coordinator Jason Tarver’s blitz-happy schemes.
How much Oakland will blitz Manning is debatable since few, if any, quarterbacks in the NFL today have as quick a release time as Denver’s quarterback.
“Precision, execution, precision,” Tarver said in explaining the best method to beat Manning. “That’s what he does so that’s what you have to do to play with this type of offense. We need to make sure the pocket is the way we want, not the way they want it.”
Hayden has had a thin line of success this season.
Against the Colts in the opener, Hayden gave up three completions that all went for first downs. The following week in Indianapolis, Hayden improved his coverage but still found Henne repeatedly searching for him and then throwing in his direction. That’s part of the learning curve for young cornerbacks in the NFL, and Hayden has already noticed a difference.
“I just have to finish and be more aggressive on the ball,” he said. “When the ball’s thrown and they’re about to catch it, be more aggressive on the breaks. If I do that, I should be all right.”
Notes: Backup center Andre Gurode practiced at left guard with Oakland’s first-team offense for the second straight day while starter Lucas Nix rests a sore ankle. Gurode was a five-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman with Dallas. ... LB Kevin Burnett left practice feeling ill. ... Tight end David Ausberry (shoulder), safety Tyvon Branch (ankle) and tackle Menelik Watson (knee) did not practice.