LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- In the unlikely event Charles Tillman misses Sunday night's game to be present for the birth of his fourth child, Kelvin Hayden will get the call to start against the Houston Texans, the second-highest scoring team in the NFL at 29.6 points per game.
Even if Tillman plays as expected, Hayden is still likely to have a significant role in the Bears' defensive game plan.
Hayden took over as the club's primary nickel back last week when he saw action on 22 snaps, while former starter D.J. Moore got just 12 plays. That gap in the playing time is only expected to increase on Sunday after Hayden received positive feedback over his performance against Tennessee that included two fumble recoveries.
An eight-year NFL veteran with 47 career starts, Hayden lined up almost exclusively at nickel back last season for the Atlanta Falcons.
"Like I said, the more and more I'm inside the more and more I'm getting comfortable," Hayden said. "I just want to do my job the best way I can. Whatever the coaches ask me to do I'm ready and willing to do it. I just want to be a perfectionist at it. There is nobody perfect at it, but I want to be the best I can be out there."
Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said their veteran defense trusts Hayden to handle his expanded responsibilities.
"Kelvin can cover," Urlacher said. "He's a good corner. He gets in there and plays man, plays Cover 2 well. He can tackle. He can obviously run. He's been around the football. He got two recovered fumbles last week. We trust him. He knows what he's doing. He's still learning. But he plays fast, and he can run."
Unlike some of the other position groups on the team, the nickel back meeting room is a small one. Hayden and Moore are the only two players to practice at the position, so it's impossible for the duo not to interact with each other through the practice week.
Although Moore has seen his playing time dip, Hayden says the two have maintained a positive relationship both on and off the field.
"There is no bad blood or anything like that," Hayden said. "Any question I have towards D.J. he has no problem answering it and the same with me. When he's out he asks me if I'm seeing something the same way he sees it and things like that. The main objective here is to win, and that's all we want to do. Every guy on this team just wants to win, and however that is we are all for it."
Hayden's experience against the Texans should aid the Bears on Sunday night. Although the Texans are a relatively unknown commodity to much of the Bears' starting defense, Hayden and Jennings used to face Houston twice a year in the AFC South when both played for the Indianapolis Colts.
Hayden is the most seasoned of the duo with nine career appearances and five starts against Houston, and is the last person to record a pick-six off Houston quarterback Matt Schaub when he returned an interception for a score in a 2010 regular season matchup in Indianapolis.
"I remember that," Hayden said with a laugh. "The front four always did a good job of putting pressure on a guy and when the pressure comes the quarterback's eyes tend to get a little big. I jumped the route, it was a good route and I scored off it."
Hayden is also familiar with Houston's five-time Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson, who leads the Texans with 42 catches for 562 yards. Johnson hauled in a 43-yard touchdown reception the last time the two teams met in the regular season in 2008. Johnson finished that day with 10 catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 Houston victory that kept the Bears out of the playoffs.
Although some believe Johnson has lost a step over the years, Hayden still sees a dangerous opponent on film.
"When the ball is in the air he's making plays," Hayden said. "Even when the ball is not in the air and on the ground he does a great job of blocking guys. We had some good battles. I'm looking forward to Sunday."