*Editor's Note: Throughout the off-season, DallasCowboys.com staff writers will take a closer look at the roster, analyzing players' impact last season and how each fits into the team's 2014 plans. Today's Roster Rundown entry features defensive tackle Nick Hayden.*
Name: Nick Hayden
Position: Defensive Tackle
Experience: 3 seasons
Key stat:Hayden is the only Cowboys' defensive tackle who appeared in all 16 games of the 2013 season, as the defensive line dealt with a rash of injury problems.
Contract Status:Signed through 2014.
2013 Impact: There are ways the pro scouting department can help the coaching staff and vice-versa. Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett did an outstanding job of taking the players the scouts brought in and prepared them in a way that they were productive players along the defensive line.
One of those players that was brought in before the minicamps and OTAs was tackle Nick Hayden. When I first saw Hayden on the practice field, I knew that he fit the role of a one technique, but I didn't realize there was really much more to his game than that of just a big body inside.
He didn't have the athletic ability of Jason Hatcher, Tyrone Crawford or Jay Ratliff or that explosive quickness that each of these players showed. But what was very clear in those early practices was that Marinelli and Lett enjoyed working with Hayden and by the time we had arrived in Oxnard, he was going to be the starter -- yes because of injuries, but also for what he had shown throughout camp.
There was nothing about Hayden's play that was flashy or attention-grabbing, but just a steady, down after down performer. To his credit, he played through some injuries during the season and if you go back and study the games closely, there were times where Hayden was drawing a double team or two, which freed up Jason Hatcher for a sack.
With Hayden, there always appeared a play in the game where he was in the right place at the right time. We all remember the Minnesota game, when George Selvie came from the backside on Christian Ponder and the ball ended up on the ground in the end zone. Hayden, working in the front of the pocket saw the ball on the ground and got on top of it for a key play in a tight game.
For a player that was given an opportunity after sitting out the previous season, Nick Hayden surely made the best of it.
Where He Fits: Hayden will once again see snaps at the one technique, but if the club can find ways to not have him play so many snaps in the game, he would probably become an even better player. There was a period where you could see that he was fighting the injuries and his production was not as good.
As I mentioned, he was still steady but if he could be in a rotational system, he would have been better. If these coaches had their preference, they would most likely not have had him playing as the nickel tackle and going with a quicker inside player, but that option just was not there. [embedded_ad]
I am okay with him as a two down player and if that is in a backup role, then it would be even better. He is going to give you everything he ha, but he is much better at 25 snaps than 50 or 60.
David Helman: I'll be honest -- when OTAs and minicamp began last offseason, I didn't really know who Hayden was, and I assumed he'd be a camp body whose name I didn't have to learn.
In fact, when our staff did offseason interviews with the Cowboys' key role players, I don't believe we even interviewed Hayden – we instead opted for Anthony Hargrove, who didn't even make it to training camp.
Now, Hayden is a successful 16-game starter and a big part of the defensive line going forward. He didn't necessarily shine from his defensive tackle spot, but Hayden was often in the right place at the right time, and his effort was undeniable. Most importantly, Hayden was able to stay on the field for an entire season, which isn't something many Dallas defensive linemen could say last year.
It'll be interesting to see how the Cowboys' free agency and draft moves affect Hayden's status at the top of the depth chart. But at the very least, this team signed a valuable addition who has proven he has what it takes to start if need be.