D.J. Hayden ready to fill one of most important roles in Jaguars defense

Jaguars counting on Hayden to replace Aaron Colvin at nickel cornerback

By Brian Jackson - Digital sports reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - On Monday Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye was ranked No. 35 on the NFL’s top 100 players list. There’s no doubt fellow cornerback Jalen Ramsey will land in the top 30 players when that list is revealed in the weeks to come. 

The duo is widely regarded as one of the best if not the best cornerback tandem in the NFL. Both Ramsey and Bouye are coming off of All-Pro seasons. Last year Ramsey and Bouye made it a point to explain how having Aaron Colvin at nickel cornerback made their jobs easier. Colvin signed with Houston during free agency and the Jaguars signed D.J. Hayden as his replacement. 

“D.J. has done a real nice job,” said Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash. “When he was out in Oakland, obviously he was a first-round pick, he played a lot of nickel out in Oakland. We evaluated him a year ago. We evaluated him a year ago, and we liked him as a nickel. Then he goes up to Detroit, doesn’t play a lot of nickel, but we knew he had that skillset. We are really locking him in at that position.”

One of the challenges for Hayden is that he has to learn not one but two positions in the Jaguars’ defense. While Ramsey has been absent at OTA’s [organized team activities], Hayden has seen time playing on the outside as well as on the inside at nickel cornerback. 

“I’ve been doing it my whole career anyway,” said Hayden following Wednesday’s OTA No. 9. “It’s like the same thing different place. It’s football. I’ve been playing football my whole life. I’ve been playing inside and outside. I kind of already had a feel for it. I just have to learn the defense and the scheme. I’m getting really acquainted with it and will make the best of it.”

Although Hayden will likely spend the majority of his time playing at nickel the Jaguars like his ability to play both inside and outside. 

“He has really grown in our OTAs sessions,” said Jaguars defensive backs coach Perry Fewell. “There are still some zone coverage responsibilities that he has not seen enough of, so he needs as many reps as he possibly can take so that it becomes rote memory for him. We like what we have seen out of him so far. We really like his man coverage skills, too.”

Last season in Detroit, Hayden finished with 42 tackles, a half-sack and two fumble recoveries. He knows there will be ample opportunities to make even more plays in Jacksonville.

“They [opposing quarterback] may not want to try Jalen or A.J,” said Hayden. “So they’re going to try me. So there are going to be plays out there for me to make, so I’ve got to make them.”

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