Chicago Bears cornerback Kelvin Hayden has started 47 games in his career. In place of Tim Jennings, who won't play due to a shoulder injury sustained last week, Hayden will make his 48th start this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. It's familiar territory for a player that sealed Super Bowl XLI for the Indianapolis Colts with a pick-six of Bears quarterback Rex Grossman.
"[Hayden] has done it in this league. He's a veteran corner," said coordinator Rod Marinelli. "And it's not a new system for him. It's the same system he's been brought up in. Tim and him played together in Indy and they know it. And I've got a lot of confidence in him."
Hayden was signed to a one-year deal this offseason, with the expectation that his experience playing in Tampa-2 systems would allow him to be the primary backup to all three starting cornerback spots. As the season progressed, though, Hayden began to siphon more and more snaps from D.J. Moore at nickelback, eventually taking over the starting role in Week 9.
He'll now move out wide, covering split end and flankers instead of slot receivers. It's a positional change that requires a significant shift in formation location, keys and technique.
CB Kelvin Hayden
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports
"At corner, everything is front of you but at nickel, you have things on the inside and outside. I think that's the main difference," Hayden said. "At corner, most of the time the sideline is right next to you. Sometimes that can be beneficial. At nickel, everything happens a little bit faster. Playing the nickel, you're kind of like a linebacker."
He'll make his first start in a Bears uniform this week, yet Hayden said his preparation hasn't changed.
"I prepare the same way as I usually do. I prepare as a starter," he said. "I prepare like I'm a starter any other week. In this game, you just don't know what's going to happen. If a guy goes down on the second play of the game, you want to be prepared and ready to go. That's my whole job is just to be ready when my number is called. I'm going to try to continue to do the same."
Luckily for Hayden, he won't have to cover Minnesota receiver Percy Harvin, who was placed on injured reserve this week with an ankle injury. Harvin is one of the most dynamic receivers in the league, a big-play threat that can score every time he touches the ball. Losing him is a huge blow to the Vikings.
Since originally suffering the injury a month ago, no other Minnesota receiver has stepped up to fill Harvin's shoes. As a result, quarterback Christian Ponder has taken a step back in his second season, leaving running back Adrian Peterson to do the heavy lifting for Minnesota's offense.
"We don't look at it that way," said Hayden. "Anytime you look at it as ‘they're just going to try to run the ball,' you get a surprise. We're just going to continue to be on the details, read our run and pass keys as a secondary and fly around and make plays when our number is called."
He did admit the Bears are likely to put eight men in the box the majority of the game.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure [it will be eight men]," he said. "The main thing that makes their offense tick is Adrian Peterson. So our main goal is to stop him and force them to go to their second option."
The 29-year-old Hayden now has an opportunity to earn himself a new contract with the Bears after this season. If he can show up and make plays over the final quarter of the campaign, something he has struggled to do the past few weeks, he'll get paid.
For his part, Hayden said he's not looking any farther ahead than this week's contest.
"It's always good to be out there every play, out there having fun, making plays and enjoying the moment," he said. "These guys put in so much work, so much time and so much effort trying to win and have one goal. I just want to continue to have fun and fly around. In this defense, you just don't know what's going to happen."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.