ALAMEDA — Oakland Raiders first-round cornerback D.J. Hayden has been cleared for contact and will practice without limitations for the first time since a near-fatal heart injury almost ended his career last November.
That news couldn't come at a better time for the Raiders.
Starting cornerback Tracy Porter injured his groin Friday night and will likely be sidelined this week, and the rest of the defense failed to stop Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints' first-team offense even once.
Brees led the Saints to scores on all five drives he played in a 28-20 exhibition victory Friday night as Oakland was once again unable to generate any pressure on the quarterback.
"He's gone through a lot," coach Dennis Allen said of Hayden on Saturday. "It will be good to get him in a game situation and let him get out there and play. We brought him to New Orleans with us this week. We let him go through the pregame warm-up just to try to get that feel about being back out on the field again. He's anxious and excited about getting an opportunity to play this week."
Hayden has been brought along slowly after a practice collision with a teammate in college at Houston last November nearly ended his life.
Hayden was rushed into surgery for a tear of the inferior vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart. Doctors had to cut through Hayden's sternum to save him. The injury is fatal 95 percent of the time in the field, according to doctors, and is most commonly associated with high-speed motor vehicle accidents.
The Raiders selected Hayden 12th overall and expressed confidence that the injury would not limit his NFL career.
Hayden took part in rookie minicamp in May before needing surgery in the first week of OTAs to repair abdominal scarring. He missed the rest of the offseason program and was not cleared for contact until Friday.
"Obviously, nobody knows how he's going to respond when that happens," Allen said. "He's been very good as far as practice has been concerned. We're having to hold him back. ... From that standpoint I think he has the right mindset going into this thing. I think it will be a great opportunity for him to go out there and play this week and get his first game action under his belt."
While his return will be welcomed, he won't do much to improve a struggling pass rush. Brees picked apart Oakland's defense with ease while leading the Saints to two touchdowns and three field goals on five drives. He completed 14 of 18 passes for 202 yards and was barely touched by Oakland's depleted front seven.
Brees hit rookie Nick Toon on a 56-yard deep ball to set up the first touchdown and had nearly 10 seconds in the pocket to find Kenny Stills on a 16-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter.
After generating little pressure on Dallas' Tony Romo in the exhibition opener, the Raiders fared little better against Brees and the Saints. Oakland is missing starting defensive end Lamarr Houston and tackles Pat Sims and Vance Walker.
"Obviously it's a concern," Allen said. "We've had two games where we really haven't been able to get after the passer, specifically with four people. So, that's something that we got to continue to look at."