Bears on the bubble taking nothing for granted
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter August 23, 2014 12:44AM
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 09: Kelvin Hayden #24 of the Chicago Bears smiles as he leaves the field after recovering a fumble against the Indianapolis Colts during their 2012 NFL season opener at Soldier Field on September 9, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Colts 41-21. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Updated: September 26, 2014 1:27PM
SEATTLE — Kelvin Hayden has spent the last 10 years of his life defending the pass. He might spend the next 20 encouraging it — in the fast lane, trying to get packages to Indiana, Michigan and Missouri on time.
The Bears cornerback has founded Double H Logistics, a trucking company based in Chicago that serves as an independent contractor for UPS.
When Hayden’s cousin, Ben Henderson, a truck driver, became disillusioned with the business, Hayden asked him what he’d do if he had his own rig. He’d spend more time with his son, a football prospect about to enter high school, Henderson said.
So Hayden, a Hubbard High and Illinois alum, asked his financial team about starting the business.
‘‘They liked the idea,’’ he said. ‘‘So I said, ‘Why get one? Why not just get three?’ So we got three.’’
Hayden doesn’t want to become a full-time shipping magnate anytime soon. But entering his 10th season in the NFL, he knows his turn will come someday.
‘‘If you’re around long enough,’’ he said, ‘‘you know that everybody’s like a walking time bomb.’’
Hayden, who started at nickel back Friday night against the Seattle Seahawks, likely won’t detonate this season, given the hamstring injury to cornerback Isaiah Frey. But he has seen enough players cut to know the reality of life on the roster bubble.
‘‘Whatever happens happens,’’ the 31-year-old said. ‘‘If you’re around long enough, you know your time is coming.’’
Making the cut
The Bears left Seattle on Friday night with 90 players on their roster.
They began to whittle it down Saturday, releasing defensive tackle Nate Collins as part of the first wave of cuts that must get the team down to 75 players by 3 p.m. Tuesday. The 53-man roster must be submitted by 3 p.m. Saturday.
Another reported cut was safety Adrian Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowl player who missed last season with a heel injury.
Hayden said he hasn’t noticed a tenser locker room — ‘‘Usually you can tell,’’ he said — but the dates are never far from players’ minds.
‘‘It’s a long process,’’ defensive end Trevor Scott said. ‘‘But at the same time, it’s a quick process — because any day you could be gone.’’
Since being drafted in 2008, Scott has played for the New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He looks likely to stick on the Bears, having played the most downs of any defensive lineman in each of the first two preseason games.
He tries not to focus about the looming cuts.
‘‘It’s in the back of my mind,’’ he said. ‘‘It motivates me. You need to go 1,000 mph, because as soon as you get comfortable, you’re going to be gone.’’
The next week won’t be much different than the rest of Matthew Mulligan’s career. The tight end is on his seventh team in six years and lives in extended-stay hotels as a concession to his vagabond profession.
‘‘This is the toughest part of the year for everybody,’’ Mulligan said. ‘‘Honestly, there’s a small percentage of guys on each team that know they’re going to be here the full year. You may make the team, but whether you’ll be here all year long, you have no idea.’’
It doesn’t get easier with age.
‘‘The pressure never goes away,’’ Scott said. ‘‘I put a lot of pressure on myself because I care about this game and I want to make an impact wherever I end up. Hopefully it’s here.’’
Undrafted rookie Christian Jones feels the stress, too.
‘‘But,’’ he said, ‘‘that’s what makes it interesting.’’
Coach Marc Trestman tells his players all the time: Those on the bubble are performing for other teams’ scouts as much as the Bears.
‘‘Just because you’re not here doesn’t mean you don’t belong in the NFL,’’ Hayden said.
The Bears won’t pick the best 53 players but rather the ones that fit their team the best. That means nine or 10 defensive linemen, four or five safeties, two or three tight ends — and on and on, with each position group’s total affecting the next.
Specialists, too, muck up the math.
‘‘Every time you come out here, you have an opportunity to prove yourself,’’ Jones, a linebacker, said. ‘‘That’s what I try to do, whether it’s on defense or special teams. I know my main goal is special teams right now because that’s where it’s going to solidify my spot on the team.’’
Hayden called making the team as a wide receiver or cornerback a ‘‘sticky situation here,’’ given the high-end talent.
‘‘Put your best foot forward,” wideout/returner Chris Williams said. ‘‘If they see that, they see it. If not, hopefully somebody else will.’’
Players aren’t ‘‘playing for one team — you’re playing for all of them,’’ Mulligan said.
‘‘Every team has certain needs,’’ he said. ‘‘And you never know.’’
Of course, that requires getting enough turns at practice and in games. Quarterback David Fales, who hasn’t thrown a preseason pass since the first game, often launches more balls after practice than during. Reps can be hard to come by for defenders, too.
‘‘I would be a liar if I said it wasn’t difficult or frustrating at times,’’ second-year cornerback C.J. Wilson said. ‘‘Sometimes you’ve just got to let it roll off your back and make the most of the opportunity you do get.’’
Fales has been in this position before. In college, he left Nevada — where he was stuck behind Colin Kaepernick — played two years of junior college football and landed at San Jose State. ‘‘I was never given a spot,’’ he said.
The sixth-round draft pick might not admit it, but his odds of staying in Chicago improved last week when the NFL expanded the practice-squad rosters from eight to 10 players.
Eligibility was expanded, too, allowing for each team to keep two players with no more than two seasons of free-agency credit.
‘‘It would be a blessing to make the practice squad, but I want to make the 53-man roster and do the best I can to help the Chicago Bears,’’ Wilson said. ‘‘If I come up short and have to go on the practice squad, it’s still a blessing to me. . . . I want to make the most of that opportunity.’’
The extra 64 jobs league-wide won’t change the harsh reality of the next week. Every player leaves the NFL eventually in one of two ways: by choice or because he’s cut.
‘‘And most guys,’’ Hayden said, ‘‘don’t go to the point where they retire.’’