By reasonable standards, William Hayes turned in a pretty solid season for the Tennessee Titans.
The second-year man, who made the big jump from Division II Winston-Salem State a year ago, was plenty raw when he the Titans picked him in the fourth round of the 2008 draft.
But by week five of this season, Hayes had usurped Jevon Kearse in the starting lineup at left defensive end and went on to make 11 starts for the Titans this season.
Hayes finished the year with 51 total tackles, including 31 solo stops. He forced two fumbles and had four sacks to his credit. Still, he wasn’t satisfied with his overall performance.
“I did OK. I’m not gonna say I had a great season. I played good for my second year, and from where I came from,” Hayes said. “I definitely played a lot better than a lot of people expected me to play. I really can’t complain, because I played a whole lot better this year.”
Hayes said he didn’t come close to meeting the goals he set for himself for 2009.
“I think I got better, but it was not really the season I was looking forward to having. I wanted more sacks,” he said. “I think I played decent, but I could have played a lot better. I wanted to have double-digit sacks, but a lot of stuff happened during the season. A couple of key players got hurt, but you can’t make no excuses. I just didn’t make the plays sometimes when they were presented to me. I’ve just got to get better and grow from it.”
Hayes said he learned plenty from not only defensive line coach Jim Washburn, but also from veterans like Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch this season as well. He was appreciative that he actually got to put into practice some of the things he had to simply learn the hard way his rookie year.
As a rookie, Hayes was active for just eight games with no starts and 13 total tackles.
“I just applied what I learned this year. My rookie year, I just struggled in thinking, ‘William Hayes, was he going to get it done?’” Hayes said. “I just had to buy into the system. Last year, I was taking I.V.s before practices.”
As his play improved, Washburn was able to help Hayes advance in his pass rush technique and moves this year, and it paid off on the field.
“This year, he taught me more advanced moves. Last year, I just had to stick with the basics,” Hayes said. “It was more of a learning year. This year was more an applying year, applying a lot of stuff.”
By no means is Hayes satisfied, he says, as he knows the Titans could be shopping either in the draft or free agency for help at his position – even if it’s just depth to replace Kearse and potentially Vanden Bosch, too.
“I’ve just got to put in a lot of hard work in the off-season, to continue to grow and get better every day,” Hayes said.
He says he can’t imagine both of them, not being in Tennessee next year, though both are free agents. Kearse will almost certainly be let go, while Vanden Bosch’s chances of returning are significantly better. Could Hayes handle having to be one of the Titans’ leaders at his position in just his third season in the NFL?
“I don’t know what Wash would say about that, me being the leader of the defensive line,” Hayes said. “That’d be something to think about. It would definitely be hard, because they’ve taught you so much about how to be a good football player and also how to be a pro. It’d definitely be hard losing those two.”