Bears cornerback and Chicago native Kelvin Hayden has stood at the edge of the abyss, stared into it, and fought back from it.
Early in training camp 2013, Hayden tore a hamstring and was done for the season. He was coming off being the No. 1 nickel back, who played in all 16 games for 2012 and started two in place of Tim Jennings on what was a top-five yardage and scoring defense.
He’d not been able to stay healthy for 16 games for the previous four seasons, with Indianapolis and Atlanta. But this was different, the injury more serious and coming as he was turning 30, and just at the time when he appeared to be settling into a solid role with a top defense.
Hayden admitted there were times he wavered, battling not just the injury but also the discouragement and depression that came with it.
“It was tough, definitely,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re laid up and not doing anything. For six weeks I couldn’t even move my leg. Watching the games from home was depressing sometimes but it was motivation as well. You have to face up to it and say is it going to get the best of me or am I going to accept the challenge. I took the challenge.”
And he did it in more ways than just what was expected.
Hayden came into Halas Hall to rehab and work out most of last season. When the season ended, he worked with a physical therapist to develop a new program to strengthen and improve his hamstrings.
But Hayden also contracted with a nutritionist as soon as he was home from surgery, with the idea of changing the ways he ate, improving his health and possibly helping him heal faster. When he wasn’t able to cook, he employed someone to do that for him, the right way. “And I think it did help me recover faster,” he said.
Hayden had rehabbed five or six days a week for months, but nothing could dispel the tension he felt when he set himself for that first full-speed run.
When it went well, “I thought, ‘Man, I’ve come a long way. I put in the work,’” Hayden said, quietly. “Just to see the effects of the work you put in, it was just an emotional moment.”
So was the Bears stepping up with a contract for 2014. It came with no job guarantee, and the Bears used their first-round pick on a cornerback, Kyle Fuller.
“It is what it is, one of those things in our league where it’s ‘what have you done for me lately?’” Hayden said. “Me being injured all last year, no film, they have to say, ‘Can we depend on this guy?’”
But the Bears did think enough of Hayden to re-sign him, a significant statement to a player dealing with doubts.
“It definitely spoke volumes. Hats off to them. And it goes to me as well, because from day one I attacked this thing like no other. Before the season ended, I was running full speed so maybe they were thinking that I still have something left.”