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Kelvin Hayden eager to bolster cornerback spot for Bears

2-4-2007--Super Bowl--Bears vs. Colts--Colts cornerback KelvHayden runs back an interceptifor TD return--Sun-Times phoby Tom Cruze

2-4-2007--Super Bowl--Bears vs. Colts--Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden runs back an interception for a TD return--Sun-Times photo by Tom Cruze

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Updated: July 15, 2012 3:31PM

Kelvin Hayden’s new teammates remind him that they might be wearing his Super Bowl ring if he hadn’t intercepted a pass by Rex Grossman and returned it 56 yards for a back-breaking touchdown in Super Bowl XLI.

Hayden takes the kidding in stride, while also understanding the performance of the cornerback that lines up opposite Charles Tillman could determine whether he and the Bears find themselves in position to earn ­a ring at season’s end.

“It could definitely be big,” Hayden said when asked about solidifying the left cornerback position. “This defense has been putting up numbers and setting a standard year in and year out. Us as corners, we don’t want to be the reason why the team isn’t successful. We’re going to do everything possible to make sure that’s not the case.”

Much of the offseason enthusiasm surrounding the Bears has focused on offensive additions such as Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Bush, even though cornerback was also a glaring need ­addressed quietly with the addition of Hayden, the former ­Hubbard High, Joliet Junior College and Illinois standout.

While few doubt Hayden’s ability, his durability remains a nagging question after he missed much of the last three seasons with assorted injuries, including an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion in his neck. That’s the same surgery that forced former Colts teammate Peyton Manning to miss all of last season and made some wonder if the MVP quarterback would play again.

“That’s critical,” Hayden said of proving he can stay healthy. “That’s the knock on me. The knock isn’t ‘He can’t play’, it’s ‘Will he be healthy for 16 weeks?’ ’’

Hayden was the starter and Tim Jennings was his backup for most of Hayden’s six years in Indianapolis. Now Jennings is the starting left cornerback for the Bears and Hayden is trying to unseat his former teammate, who he refers to as “like a brother.”

Rookie late-round draft picks Isaiah Frey of Nevada and Greg McCoy of TCU aren’t competing for starting spots, but could improve depth. Coach Lovie Smith said nickel back D.J. Moore could also see some time at cornerback.

“In my 10 years of being here, this is the best group of corners we’ve had in just overall talent,” Tillman said. “Now, they’re still learning the defense, but as far as a talent standpoint, this is by far the best group of talented young men we’ve had.”

Hayden grew up a Bears fan. His mother worried about the distractions of having so many friends and family around before her son put her at ease. He’s not a rookie, after all. After eight years in the league, he knows what it takes to prepare himself for a great opportunity.

“This is a great group,” he said. “You can tell there’s a bond. It’s not similar in every locker room. You have to have that bond to go on that field and excel because you know the guy next to you is going to do his job. It makes everything much easier.

“These guys have experience at every position. You’ve got Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher. You can go right down the line. It’s a great situation for everybody.

“The time is now.”

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