Chicago Bears cornerback D.J. Moore has been a solid presence as the club's starting nickelback the past two seasons. Yet a bigger, physical, more-seasoned player in Kelvin Hayden has been stealing Moore's slot snaps.
Hayden's reps on defense as the team's third cornerback have gradually increased over the past month. And against the Tennessee Titans last week, he played almost double the snaps of Moore.
For most of his career, Hayden has been an outside corner. Only last year with the Atlanta Falcons did he slide into the slot.
"I played nickel in Atlanta," Hayden said today. "It was a whole different scheme, more of an attack 3-4. We had a sub 4-3 package but it's nothing like this."
As it would for any NFL player, it took Hayden a while before feeling comfortable in Chicago's system.
"I'm getting a little bit more comfortable in nickel," said Hayden. "There were some things that I wasn't very comfortable with but the more I'm in there, the more comfortable I am."
Hayden (6-0, 195) is bigger than Moore (5-9, 182). Against sizeable opposing wideouts – like Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who likes to line up in the slot – Hayden can be physical at the line of scrimmage in press coverage, something in which Moore has struggled.
Despite the two players competing for playing time, Hayden said there is no bad blood between them.
"It's nothing, no bad blood or anything like that," he said. "Any questions I have toward D.J., he has no problem answering. The same with me. When he's out there, he asks did I see that, did I see it the same way he saw it. Things like that. The main objective here is to win and that's what we want to do. Every guy on this team, we just want to win. However that is, we're all for it."
Hayden believes practice is where he's made the biggest strides this season. And in Chicago, if you practice well, you earn playing time on game days.
"I think practice is the most important thing, just because the coaches try to throw a lot of things at me that I usually don't see. So if I do see things come game day, it won't be a surprise."
For now, the nickel rotation of Hayden and Moore likely will continue, based mainly on the personnel of the opposing offense. But one thing is for sure: Chicago's coaching staff is giving Hayden every opportunity to earn the position.
"The more I'm inside, the more I'm getting comfortable. I just want to do my job the best way I can. Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I'm willing and ready to do it. There's nobody perfect but I want to be the best I can be when I'm out there. That's the way I look at it. Whenever my number is called, I want to respond."
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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.