Hayes adjusting to new position at Rutgers
Anytime a player switches positions midway through their career, there are going to be some learning curves and growing pains as they ease into the position.
None have done that better this season for the Rutgers football team than junior Damon Hayes, who spent his first two seasons on the Banks playing cornerback, but is now in at safety for the Scarlet Knights.
Hayes saw a lot of time in the starting cornerback spot last season after then-junior Blessuan Austin went down and was out for the season with a torn ACL. But, since Austin was expected back this season — he has since been announced, again, as out for the season after getting the same ACL repaired — and the cornerback group finally looked healthy and at full strength, Hayes made the switch over to safety.
“He’s done a nice job, he’s still learning on the job,” said head coach Chris Ash on Hayes’s progress. “He’s still growing, still developing.”
During his first season, Hayes appeared in 11 games at cornerback. He recorded 25 tackles, a sack, an interception and deflected four passes. He improved on those numbers a season later, ending the 2017 season with 48 tackles, another interception and 11 pass deflections.
Coming out the gates for the 2018 season at his new position, Hayes played well against Texas State in the season opener. He ended the day with four tackles, a quarterback hit and a broken up pass, but most importantly, Rutgers got the win.
Surprisingly enough, Hayes had the second most tackles in a game (eight) this season the next week against then-No. 4 Ohio State. This may have been a product of the Buckeyes offense getting all over the field whenever they wanted to, but it could also have been a representation of the work Hayes had been doing in practice.
“I like taking risks, and seeing the quarterback allows you to take more than at corner,” Hayes said in the summer, according to NJ Advance Media. “You can really see route concepts, down-and-distance. You can really zone off and look at everything. At corner, you really have to lock in on your man, but the backend safety can look at everything.”
Hayes had similar performances in back-to-back weeks against Kansas and Buffalo, tackling the opponent four times in each game. The only glaring, yet important, difference between the games was the fourth quarter interception he had off Bulls quarterback Tyree Jackson.
It seems that Hayes enjoyed taking the ball away from the opposing offense and putting an interception on their quarterback's stat sheet because he picked off Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey in last weekend’s loss to the Hoosiers.
Hayes had his best all-around game last Saturday, adding 10 tackles to his interception. He intercepted Ramsey in the end zone on fourth down during the Knights’ fourth quarter burst of energy that almost led to a comeback against Indiana.
“He’s in the mix a lot more at safety, especially in the run game, than what he was at corner,” Ash said. “He’s doing a good job, and I think he’s going to be an outstanding safety. As he continues to get more and more reps, he’ll continue to improve.”