DAVIE — Defensive end William Hayes isn’t comfortable. Of course he isn’t. Those around him are saying he’s off to a strong start in his Dolphins career, but Hayes isn’t having any of it.
For one thing, the Dolphins are coming off an embarrassment against the Jets, so nobody in the locker room is in a particularly jovial mood entering Sunday’s game in London against the New Orleans Saints. Coach Adam Gase has used words such as “garbage” to describe the performance, but Hayes offered a slightly different perspective.
“I think we probably got a little too comfortable,” Hayes said. “That’s what it was. The practice wasn’t the greatest, but at the end of the day, I don’t know if that played a significant part. I just feel that we got comfortable and last week was a good reminder to show us that in order to win these games week in and week out, you’ve got to focus on the small details.”
Hayes said the team has been “one-minded” this week.
“We’ll be fine,” he said.
If everyone plays up to Hayes’ standard thus far, they will be. Defensive coordinator Matt Burke singled out Hayes, acquired in the offseason in a trade with the Rams, as a reason the Dolphins have jumped from 30th in the NFL against the run last season to fifth to start this season. They’re allowing 73.5 yards per game — half of last season’s debacle.
“He’s a hard guy to block,” Burke said. “He takes pride in it. He’s a tempo setter for us.”
Although Hayes said, “My primary goal when I came here was to help with the run defense and that’s what I’ve been doing,” there’s more to his game.
Hayes has one of the Dolphins’ three sacks and leads the team in quarterback hits with three. So he’s helping in pass defense, too.
“I don’t find that interesting at all,” said fellow end Andre Branch in what was intended as a compliment. “We know who he is. He knows who he is. It’s no surprise to me.”
Burke’s history with Hayes goes back to when he was on the staff of the Tennessee Titans, who drafted Hayes in the fourth round in 2008.
“We drafted him out of Winston-Salem State,” Burke said. “He was a small-school kid. He came into the NFL and literally, sort of like he is now, it wasn’t too big for him. I know you guys (reporters) probably get the offbeat side of him but he’s a tough SOB. He’s a hardcore dude. He was like that from the start. Again, sometimes you get those small-school players and it’s too big. He never blinked.”
That “offbeat side” is a reference to Hayes’ unconventional theories, such as believing in mermaids, which should not obscure his ability on the field. Or his expectations of himself, despite Burke’s compliments.
“I just haven’t played at my standards,” Hayes said. “Not to sound bad, I don’t really care about what other people think. I know what I can do.”
How much more can he contribute?
“Significant,” he said. “For whatever reason, I haven’t been getting as much production as I like.”