Casey Hayward looks to make impact after injury-plagued 2013
Cornerback Casey Hayward. Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Casey Hayward quietly took the NFL by storm during his rookie season in 2012. He performed better than some expected with six interceptions while playing behind a veteran cornerback in Tramon Williams and alongside a young explosive defensive back in Sam Shields.
In 2013, though, Hayward only played in three games and was placed on injured reserved back in November due to a vicious and troublesome hamstring injury that first emerged in July of last year while working out by himself.
It plagued him throughout the year and practically wasted his sophomore season. While recovering and building his body back, Shields got paid and received a glorious new contract this offseason, and the Packers used their first-round pick on top-rated safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama. Those attractions furthermore tossed the forgotten Hayward back under shelf from the eyes of the national spotlight.
Now Hayward is back to where he wants to be physically during his impressive rookie year. And all of the time off he had might have been beneficial in helping him become a better player on the field.
“I definitely learned,” Hayward said at his locker during the start of week two of organized team activities. “I was able to critique these guys game and was able to critique myself. I was able to watch film on myself the year before trying to get myself mentally prepared for the next year. I was like, ‘OK, I know I’m not playing this year, what can I do to help the team?’. And that’s what I was trying to do. Find ways that I can help the team and I think I was doing that.”
“I feel good right now, like I said, coming off the injury I was taking it day-by-day.” Hayward added. “But mentally I became stronger and I think I became a better player just off the field watching film and studying all of the players and everything.”
“This offseason really helped me out," the cornerback explained. "I was able to rest my hamstring and strengthen it at the same time instead of trying to be able to run on it still trying to do all of these things at the same time. So I think the big key was a lot of rest for me.”
Hayward played in every game as rookie, making seven starts. With Shields locked up for the foreseeable future, and Williams now heading into a contract year, it’ll be important for the third year cornerback from Vanderbilt to make up for lost time, with the chance to possibly replace Williams, who may not restructure his current deal. Williams will be 32 next offseason when he’s an unrestricted free agent.
Even though Hayward mostly played in the slot, head coach in Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers know what he can bring. He’s prepared to bounce back after his injury-plagued 2013.
“I’m definitely excited to go in," Hayward said. "I don’t know the specifics of the roles right now, but right now I’m playing inside and outside so, I’m definitely trying to get better and better each day. If the role is me playing outside or inside, I think coach Capers knows, McCarthy knows, the type of player I am so whenever my opportunity comes, my number is called I’m going to be able to make plays for the team.”
Even though his NFL career has been brief, the injury Hayward originally suffered last July can arguably be considered the most frustrating part of his journey in the league. All of the frustration he dealt with did teach him a valuable lesson:
“You can play with broken bones, but you can’t play with poor ligaments. That’s what you need, especially in your leg. So, dealing with a hamstring, it was hard on me,”
Along with adding Clinton-Dix through the draft, the Packers also brought in veteran pass-rusher and former division foe Julius Peppers.
“He looks like he needs to be in the NBA," Hayward said of Peppers. "He’s like Lebron’s size. Hopefully he brings a lot of excitement to this team, make a lot of plays for us, help us out in the backend, get a couple of hands on the ball.”
The addition of Peppers very much excites Hayward, and his presence is going to help add pressure to opposing offenses, basically forcing them to do the things like “Get the quarterback to throw the ball earlier.”
Throwing the ball earlier equals more interceptions for a guy who’s pretty good at grabbing them out the air.