Besides its obvious playoff implications, the Bears-Minnesota Vikings game on Sunday becomes a spot referendum on the first year of general manager Phil Emery.
One of Emerys clear missions in his first stint as a GM was to muscle up the Bears depth chart from its level of 2011 that cost the Bears a playoff berth.
In addition to draft choices and a trade (Brandon Marshall):Quarterback: Jason Campbell for Caleb Hanie.
Running back: Michael Bush for Marion Barber.
Offensive line: Chilo Rachal for Frank Omiyale, Jonathan Scott for Chris Williams.
Linebacker: Geno Hayes for everybody.
Cornerback: Kelvin Hayden for D.J. Moore, Zackary Bowman (Bowman has since been brought back).
Not all of the moves have worked, for various reasons. But a key to the Bears regaining some momentum in a playoff direction now will depend on significant contributions from Hayes and Hayden in particular, and on Scott.
During the course of the year youre going to be playing without players for a brief period of time, said coach Lovie Smith. We thought we would get lucky being this late in the year but thats not the case.
Hayden will start for injured Tim Jennings. Hayes starts at strong-side linebacker with Nick Roach sliding into Brian Urlachers spot. Scott is tasked with controlling the rush of Minnesota Vikings end Brian Robison (5.5 sacks) in quarterback Jay Cutlers face.
Hayden replaces a virtual Pro Bowl lock in Jennings, with his eight interceptions. The Vikings are without franchise wide receiver Percy Harvin and are the worst passing offense in the NFL (just ahead of the Bears).
More importantly, one reason Hayden already had replaced D.J. Moore at nickel back was because of more size and physicality, which becomes an added asset against an offense built around running back Adrian Peterson.
The situation thats at hand, you dont wish that upon anybody, said Hayden, who signed with the Bears for one year and is playing for his future. Its always good to be out there every play, out there having fun, making plays and enjoying the moment.
If a guy goes down on the second play of the game, you want to be prepared and ready to go. Thats my whole job is just to be ready when my number is called. Im going to try to continue to do the same.
Ironically, Hayden and Jennings were once teammates with the Indianapolis Colts. Jennings has 61 career starts, Hayden 47.
Hayes started 42 games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in a defensive system similar to the Bears. Like Hayden, he signed for one year and is getting his first Chicago start.
Its a great opportunity, Hayes said. Anytime you get the opportunity to step on the field and make plays, its always that chance youve got to go out there and take something. Its big.
I try not to think about his contract situation. I just want to go out there and play ball. Contract and that stuff is for after season. Right now, all Ive got to do is go out there and do my job. Thats all Im here to do.