INDIANAPOLIS—When taken in perspective, he's had it pretty easy.
After all Marlin Jackson played just four games before he lost his season due to a knee injury. Bob Sanders only got to play in two before a pectoral injury put him on the shelf for the 2009.
"I feel pretty good," said the cornerback of his tricky knee, which has kept him out of the lineup since the Colts' win over San Francisco November 1st.
Good enough to the point where Hayden expects to return to the lineup when the Colts play Tennessee Sunday afternoon, adding just a second regular starter to a secondary that's been hit hard by the injury bug, especially since the beginning of the month.
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"We know its a possibility," said head coach Jim Caldwell about the possibility of Hayden and defensive end Dwight Freeney returning to the lineup. "With both guys it will depend on what happens during the course of the week. We would hope for no setbacks or things of that nature. Hopefully, we can count on their services.
Freeney's abdomen injury cost him a week, Hayden's knee has cost him a month, but at least the two will likely return. Jackson tore his ACL during practice on the week of the Houston game and was lost for the season. Two days later, it was determined that surgery was needed to fix Sanders arm just two games after he made his season debut.
Hayden was in that injury report as well during the first week of November, but his diagnosis wasn't nearly as dire as the previous two, as Caldwell stated that Hayden's knee would keep him out about a month. Following that rehabilitation, Hayden has slowly made his way back into practice in a limited role, according to the team's injury reports.
The turning point for the injury was a pre-game workout that Hayden had at Reliant Stadium in Houston before the Colts' game with the Texans on Sunday.
"I was trying to get myself mentally prepared as if I was going to play," said Hayden of the Houston workout. "Get that feeling that you usually don't get as if you were just rehabbing here at the facility."
"It felt pretty good, I tried to push myself as hard as I could and I didn't have any setbacks, any problems, so I'm happy and positive about that and like I said I'm just ready to go."
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When he wasn't he had a seat to watch two rookie cornerbacks to take his place as well as Jackson's, Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers. The two have faced NFL standouts Andre Johnson (twice), Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Derrick Mason over the last month while Hayden was rehabbing. The duo didn't exactly shut down all of these receivers. Moss had 179 yards and three touchdowns and Mason had 142 yards, with New England's Tom Brady and Houston's Matt Schaub (Nov. 8th) throwing for over 300 yards.
But the two were able hold down the opposition enough to pick up four consecutive wins, and against Houston they held Johnson to just five catches, while Powers picked a team-high eight tackles.
"They're doing everything that you could ask a player to do, and they've been effective as well," said Hayden of the two rookie cornerbacks. "It's been great to see those guys take on a challenge and I'm behind them all the way."
Lacey-who has 56 tackles with an interception return against St. Louis-says its that teaching and encouragement from Hayden that helped them to jump in the lineup quickly.
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"A couple of the guys brought me in and showed me the ropes, they kinda prepared me with talk and I got a real good look during training camp," said Lacey.
Now that Hayden's back, those two figure to see some playing time reduced, but the veteran said he doesn't mind if he gets eased into the lineup.
"I'm gonna take it for what it is, it's up to them," said Hayden of his place in the Colts' rotation. "If they want me to go in right away, I'm fine with that, if not, than I'm also fine with that too."