Casey Hayward: Silence Is Golden
In the past few years, and almost out of nowhere, the Vanderbilt Commodores recruited and produced one of the NFL’s most exciting defensive players, who’s rookie season in 2012 gave the Packer defense something to shout about. He may be quiet away from football, leaving all his talking for the field, but Casey Hayward demands your attention.
“Hayward has short arms, his speed and physicality are just adequate, he has some man cover limitations and was stretched by Southern receivers.” Said Kevin Fishbain of Pro Football Weekly, before the 2012 NFL Draft. “Hayward is soft in run support and a poor low tackler.” Then what makes Casey Hayward so special?
Vandy, or “Candy” to rival fans, are a founding S(outh)E(astern)C(onference) member who’s football program has never flourished. With ex-Packer receiver coach James Franklin leading the team from Nashville, Vandy are certainly up and coming, but their all-time record stands at a measly .498, and their all-time bowl record is just 3-2-1 (two were in 2011 and 2012).
In fact, the only notable thing they contribute to the world of football, is occasional NFL caliber talent like QB Jay Culter and WR Earl Bennet, as well as an easy win for most opponents. To many players this can be frustrating; with a National Championship well out of reach and an annually punishing schedule, so many young talented players with potential as big as Texas fold and crumble. But the 23 year old, 192 pound corner from Perry Georgia pushed himself even harder, and led the Commodore defense to a rare bowl game appearance, buying himself a future in the pros in the process.
Amongst the many highlights created by Hayward in Nashville, his ability to read plays and intercept the ball remains the most impressive skill. During the first quarter alone against South Carolina in 2011, he picked off two balls – one while being charged at and knocked over by a team mate, and the other from a long 30 yard pass from the 20 yard line.
It’s no secret that the Gamecocks’ QB Stephen Garcia was beginning to get frustrated by half time, shaking his head as he trundled into the dressing room – and who can blame him? It’s not easy facing someone with the ability to jump like Calvin Johnson and catch the ball the Jerry Rice. The #12 ranked team were limited to just 14 points during that half, mostly a product of Hayward being a ball-hawk and limiting their time in the red zone.
Hayward would go on to become tied for third out of all the corners during his senior year (2011) statistically, with an impressive seven interceptions and a myriad of tackles (62) – this would earn him a place in the All-America squad that season – the first Commodore to achieve such a feat for four years. By the time his draft rolled around Hayward became somewhat of an intriguing gamble for many teams, getting himself noticed nationally on a team that seldom creates headline players.
When Casey left Vanderbilt for Green Bay, his ego remained the same as it always was: almost non existent. He was still the quiet, calm and collected young man he was down South, who speaks as highly of his teammates as he does of himself. There is a long and storied history of divas in the NFL, but thankfully Hayward isn’t one of them as he understands his position and takes nothing for granted. “I knew the ball was going to come to me, since I was a rookie, and the veterans like to test rookies, but you know, I was going to be ready to play.” He said on Radio Row at last year’s Superbowl. But Hayward didn’t struggle at all, passing all the tests forced upon him by the likes of Matt Stafford, Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler, whom he had big games against. By the end the regular season, he led all rookies in interceptions (6) and passes defended (27) while finishing the year with 53 tackles.
The Packers defense last season was mediocre at best, a far cry from the Superbowl winning group from two years before, Casey though wasn’t a ever part of the issue because he played hard every down and put up the numbers. “He’s smart and he’s instinctive,” said Dom Capers, Packers’ Defensive Co-ordinator “We all saw some of his strengths last year as far as taking the ball away. Guys who have football instincts and football smarts end up in the right place more often than guys who don’t have those qualities.”
Most Green Bay fans remember last year’s week six game at Houston as the game which Aaron Rodgers exploded, passing for six touchdowns, making an early claim for a second straight MVP title – but inside the Packers organization, particularly those involved with the defense, will also remember it as Hayward’s breakout game. With two interceptions against a Texans offensive which rarely stuttered during the season, and three defended passes, Casey made a name for himself, putting up defensive numbers equivalent to, well, six touchdowns.
There is a lot to be said about the many talents of Casey Hayward – if anything it will become harder and harder for him to put up big numbers as his experience in the big league increases, because no elite quarterback is going to want to throw to the same area code as him. That’s what’s special about this 23 year old, he’ll stay silent, not complain, and carry on playing. Because he knows as well as anyone, that a chance to win a Superbowl is very much on the cards before he hangs up his cleats for good, and winning one requires your whole body – not just your mouth.