ALAMEDA -- DJ Hayden is still working on some goals for the 2014 season, but he's already conquered a big one.
"I made it through one OTA," Hayden said after the new-look Raiders met for the first time on the field as a team in an organized team activity. "I'm definitely excited I made it through one OTA."
A year ago, Hayden came out of his first practice not feeling well and was soon in the hospital, undergoing surgery to remove scar tissue from his abdomen. The problem was a residual effect of life-saving trauma surgery the previous November following a freak practice play that left him with a torn blood vessel leading to his heart.
"Here were all my teammates out there working and I'm hooked up to IVs," Hayden said. "It might mess up anyone's head a little bit. But I'm way over that now and I'm just ready for the next season to start."
Club restrictions on practice information don't allow for specific reporting on which players are working with the first unit. Rest assured, however, the Raiders would love to see Hayden emerge as a starter at cornerback opposite Tarell Brown and show the kind of skill which made him the No. 12 pick in the first round of the 2013 draft.
"I think he's light years ahead of where he was at this point last year," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "Not just from a physical standpoint, but really from a mental standpoint, too.
"I think he realizes now that everything's going to be fine, he's going to be OK and now he can really focus on getting better as a football player."
Hayden was done after eight games because of a groin injury, eventually going on injured reserve following sports hernia surgery. His lone highlight moment was an end zone interception to seal a win over the San Diego Chargers.
"It definitely sucked, but those were the cards I was dealt and I just had to play them right," Hayden said.
At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Hayden appears thicker in the upper body, the result of a full offseason of strength training, and said his quick feet and coverage skill have not been compromised.
"It will definitely be beneficial, me being a little bigger, a little stronger, because we do have physical receivers in this league, and I think it will be good to be somewhat big," Hayden said.
Allen referred to Hayden as a "quasi-rookie" given the time he missed, but said, "There's a reason why we took him where we took him last year."
Hayden said Brown and Carlos Rogers, another former 49er brought in to be the slot corner, have offered words of encouragement.
"They told me just to stay focused, apply your rules to the game and let your natural instincts take over," Hayden said.
Rather than voice displeasure with Hayden during a difficult rookie season, Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, looking long-range, worked on keeping his spirits up.
"They had my back and gave me encouraging words," Hayden said. "If anyone went through that experience, they would have little doubts. But as it went on, I starting getting more confident (about the future)."