BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Veteran defensive back Kelvin Hayden avoided the injury problems last year that had haunted him in previous stops in Indianapolis and Atlanta. But Hayden never seemed to find his groove last season for the Bears as he bounced back-and-forth from cornerback to nickel back.
But there is no mistaking Hayden's role this summer in Bourbonnais. Hayden is the clear cut No. 1 nickel back on the roster, and has been working exclusively at the position since he signed a one-year deal to the return to the Bears in late March.
"I feel very comfortable," Hayden said. "Now that I understand my role I'm feeling more relaxed and understanding what's expected of me and what I'm supposed to do being the nickel back. It's been good. I'm just trying to have everything ironed out before the season starts."
Secondary coach Jon Hoke, a holdover from Lovie Smith's coaching staff last season, likes what he's seen from Hayden in the first week of camp.
"He knows what he's doing and he knows what the expectations are," Hoke said. "So far he's had a good camp. I know it's early, but he's doing a great job for us."
Hoke is excited about the competition brewing at safety behind incumbent starters Chris Conte and Major Wright, calling it a "great group". Depending on the number of safeties the Bears end up keeping on the 53-man roster, there could be difficult decisions to make between reserves Craig Steltz, Anthony Walters, Brandon Hardin, Tom Nelson, Tom Zbikowski and Cyhl Quarles.
Hardin is the ultimate wildcard since the 2012 third-round draft choice hasn't played in a meaningful game in two years. Hoke was extremely positive when discussing Hardin, saying he's "seen growth from Hardin" from last year to this summer.
However, preseason games will likely be the best way to determine Hardin's fate with the team.
Shea McClellin had a quick burst off the ball on Monday and repeatedly won his one-on-one matchups coming off the edge.
Members of the Michigan State coaching staff visited the team and observed Monday's practice session.
Rookie Kyle Long showcased his physical prowess on the first day the team donned pads, but made some mental mistakes. Long made a few more mental mistakes on Monday, but that's to be expected from a rookie who missed virtually the entire offseason program.