Linebacker Gerald Hayes (left) tries to cover tight end Stephen Spach Wednesday in Hayes' first practice since last season.
Gerald Hayes only wanted to take one question apiece, in large part because he knew the questions would be all the same – how did it feel to finally be back on the practice field?
But the Cards' veteran linebacker eventually relented, in large part because how Hayes felt Wednesday in his first real on-field work since last season after back troubles forced offseason surgery will be immaterial. The more important question: How much can Hayes help midseason when he has done so little for so long?
"I don't know how much of an impact I'm going to make," said Hayes, who doesn't yet know when that first game will be. "I know what I do and what I do well. I have to leave a lot of stuff up to the coaches. I'm going to continue to work on the things I need to work on so when I do get in there, I will know what I am doing and play at a high level."
Hayes has been on the physically unable to perform list and has yet to be activated to the roster. The Cards have three weeks to make such a move, so there is time to wait if Hayes isn't ready for Seattle on Sunday.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't sure yet what that means for Hayes, who last practiced prior to the playoff game against Green Bay in January and who missed every workout in the offseason because of his back.
"With Gerald, it's getting comfortable with the defensive scheme and running those plays again," Whisenhunt said. "It's also how he reacts to practice. He'll be sore … but hopefully he will rapidly progress because we would certainly welcome him back playing."
When Hayes is activated, he figures to play a limited role at first, working in a rotation with current starters Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington. Hayes' strength has been as a run defender and knowledgeable play-caller, and after the Cards' many issues getting aligned correctly this season, he could help in that regard.
He has to get on the field first, however.
"Today was a good start," Hayes said. "I felt pretty good knocking some of the rust off but I need to keep working to get back to football shape."
Rookie linebacker O'Brien Schofield slipped during one of his very first drills in practice Wednesday – and when he picked himself up, he realized his knee was OK.
It was a big moment for the fourth-round draft pick, who tore ligaments in January yet has returned already.
"It felt great out there," Schofield said. "Now I actually feel like part of the team."
Expectations are not high right now. Whisenhunt noted how far Schofield has to go – "O'Brien looked like a rookie in his first practice," the coach said – and Schofield himself said he certainly won't be ready to play this weekend. Like with Hayes, the Cards have three weeks to decide whether to activate Schofield. Schofield does think he can contribute both on special teams and defense, given the opportunity.
"I just have to get in where I fit in because Joey (Porter) and Clark (Haggans) have been playing well lately," he said.
RECEIVING A FULL CORPS
One of the things that should help rookie quarterback Max Hall is the possible return of veteran receivers Steve Breaston and Early Doucet, both of whom are coming off surgery.
"It's obviously an adjustment with a new quarterback but it comes down to, as long as he gets it in our area, as a receiver, you have to make the catch," Breaston said.
Whisenhunt said the status of both Breaston and Doucet will be determined later in the week as the Cards monitor their reaction to work. Hall said Breaston's return especially would help "a ton" but noted the offense doesn't have a lot of time to get used to one another.
"It's going to be key to quickly get on the same page with those guys getting back," Hall said. "I'm spending extra time with them, extra film work with them, whatever. … It just adds more weapons to the offense."
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