The Chicago Bears signed cornerback Kelvin Hayden this offseason ostensibly to replace the ineffective Zack Bowman, who never panned out as a reliable member of the secondary. Hayden spent all but one year of his career in Indianapolis, a club that used to run a defense comparable to Chicago's bread-and-butter Cover 2.
Like Tim Jennings before him, the Bears signed in free agency a corner that fits their scheme. At the start of OTAs, it was revealed that Jennings would have to beat out Hayden for the starting gig opposite Charles Tillman.
Jennings has been outstanding in training camp and has a stranglehold on the starting spot. Unless he gets hurt, he'll almost assuredly start the season with the first team.
But that doesn't mean Hayden has any less value to this team. In fact, it actually gives him more importance, as he'll now be asked to assume the role of backup to both Tillman and Jennings, as well as nickelback D.J. Moore.
CB Kelvin Hayden
"We feel like we have three starting corners with [Hayden]," coach Lovie Smith said this week. "He can also back D.J. up."
For two practices this week, Moore was hobbled by a thigh contusion. The bruise kept him out for most of Monday night's session. In Moore's absence, Hayden filled in as the starting nickelback.
"[With Hayden] we shouldn't miss a beat," said Smith. "We want to be in this situation."
Hayden has experience playing out wide for the Colts, while also playing nickel for the Atlanta Falcons last season.
"I have experience at the [nickel] position," Hayden told Bear Report. "It's not much of a transition. It's just a point of understanding how a different defense is run. Atlanta ran a whole different scheme. To understand what this defense wants a nickel to do, it's not really a big transition but it is a transition."
He said playing inside creates many new challenges.
"Things happen a little faster," said Hayden. "You've got to make two-to-three reads. It's just the understanding of route concepts and being able to react.
"In Atlanta it was more of an attack defense, blitzing, blitzing gaps, rotating the safeties; the whole defense might shift and rotate. Here you're kind of in one position and you kind of stick there unless there is motion."
He said he'd have no problem accepting the role of an edge blitzer, something Chicago likes to do with its nickel corner.
"As a defender you kind of want to attack the quarterback. At corner you don't really get a chance to do that so much as a nickel."
Moore has excelled as Chicago's nickel for three years now and is in no jeopardy of forfeiting that role. As long as he's healthy, he'll serve as the team's third corner. Yet if he does go down with injury, Hayden has the talent and experience to step in seamlessly.
The same can be said if an injury were to befall either Jennings or Tillman, which is what gives Hayden so much value to this secondary. The coaches won't have to fall back on a subpar player like Bowman. They can instead insert an experienced, accomplished, Super-Bowl-winning corner into any of the starting slots. Having that type of depth is a luxury most teams go without.
So while he might not break camp with the first team, Hayden is arguably just as important as the three starting corners.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.