The fact that William Hayes could not even make it to the field for pre-game warm-ups on the opening weekend of the NFL season had nothing to do with the knee injury he sustained early in training camp.
“I didn’t even go out there and look at (my teammates) during the pre-game, I was so irritated,” the Tennessee Titans’ third-year defensive end said.
Neither his feelings or his knee figure to limit him Sunday, when the Titans play their first road game of the season against the New York Giants. Having practiced with the team last week, the 6-foot-3, 272-pounder is ready to take the final step in his rehabilitation.
“I will be going against the Giants,” he said late last week. “…I’m just anxious to get out there, whether it’s this week, next week or the eighth week of the season.”
Hayes’ return figures to bolster a defensive line that has been rather effective in his absence. Of the Titans’ eight sacks through two games, five and a half have come from defensive ends, including two by free agent Jason Babin and one and a half by first-round draft pick Derrick Morgan.
The timing seems perfect.
Jacob Ford (one sack) has an injured knee and ankle, which places his availability for Sundy in doubt. Whether Hayes steps in to Ford’s role as a backup or moves right into the starting lineup remains to be seen.
Following the offseason departures of Kyle Vanden Bosch (free agency) and Jevon Kearse (not re-signed), Hayes – a fourth-round pick in 2008 out of Winston-Salem State – entered the offseason as a projected starter, but after sitting out a period of weeks, he no longer necessarily stands out among the rest of the team’s defensive end.
“Every time somebody makes a play I’m excited for them. I’m not sitting in the back saying, ‘I could be doing that way better,’” Hayes said. “I’m up there cheering my teammates on.
“I’m just trying to get back in the swing of things. I’m feeling real good right now.”
Similarly, his teammates couldn’t feel better about getting him back.
“I wasn’t here with Will last year, but I saw some plays he made on tape from last year,” Babin said. “He’s strong. Will’s big guy. It will definitely be exciting to get Will in the mix.”