With Two Touchdowns in Three Games, Colts Cornerback Kelvin Hayden's Confidence Rises
INDIANAPOLIS – At times, Kelvin Hayden said it hasn't been easy.
Not that the Colts' six-year veteran cornerback said every game each of the last two seasons has been a struggle and not that there haven't been high points.
But Hayden said yes, there have been times since Larry Coyer took over as defensive coordinator and changed at least part of the Colts' philosophy of pass coverage that the transition has been a little more difficult than he expected. And injuries haven't helped, either.
But while it has been tough at times, he said he feels more comfortable now.
And he said it's not just two touchdowns in the past three games that make that so.
Although those two touchdowns? They weren't bad, either.
"I can get used to the feeling," Hayden said with a laugh this week.
Hayden, the Colts' second-round selection in the 2005 NFL Draft and a starter since 2007, not only has gotten used to the feeling, he has done so at critical times for the Colts.
His 25-yard interception for a touchdown broke open a tight game against the Houston Texans two weeks ago, turning a seven-point lead into a 14-0 margin in a game eventually won by the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, 30-17.
This past week his touchdown against Cincinnati was no less key.
With the Colts dealing with a rash of injuries at the linebacker position, as well as at the safety position, Hayden intercepted a pass from Carson Palmer at the Bengals 31-yard line. His return for a touchdown down the left sideline gave the Colts a 10-0 lead.
Indianapolis took a 17-0 lead and won, 23-17, to take sole possession of the AFC South lead.
"He's doing what we anticipate happening during the course of the season," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "He just keeps getting better and better and better. Every week his comfort level seems to increase, and he's always around the ball making plays for us. I do see that.
"I do see the confidence level continuing to grow. His assertiveness, he's always been a tough, reckless guy, but I think you can start to see even his ball skills come into play as well. He used to be a receiver at one point in time.
"I think you can certainly see that when he gets an opunity to get his hands on it, he usually completes the task."
Hayden, who has four career interceptions for touchdowns – a total that includes a 56-yard return for a touchdown that clinched the Colts' victory over Chicago in Super Bowl XLI before he even had become a fixture in the starting lineup – said he never lost confidence, exactly.
But he did say the past two seasons tested it at times.
Hayden, who moved to cornerback from receiver in his final season at the University of Illinois, spent his first two NFL seasons continuing to learn the position. He did so while also learning the Cover 2 techniques employed and popularized by former Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy.
He started two seasons under Dungy, 2007 and 2008, emerging as one of the top young cornerbacks in the NFL. He registered 179 tackles during those two seasons, while also making six interceptions and returning one for a touchdown against Cincinnati in 2008.
He also broke up 24 passes over those two seasons.
When Dungy retired following the 2008 season, Caldwell hired Larry Coyer as coordinator, and the transition to the new scheme was tricky at times for Hayden, Colts President Bill Polian said this week.
"I couldn't feel better for a player than I do for Kelvin, because he has gone through a difficult transition changing from a pure Cover 2 corner to what we do now, and it has been rough for him in certain spots," Polian said. "There are things we do that don't exactly fit his talent.
"He has fought through it and persevered, and it's great to see him have success. He's a really good guy and a good player."
Said Hayden, "Me coming from college and only having one year – not really knowing what to expect out of a defensive scheme – everything that I knew was the old defense. I was raw and everything was, 'This is the way it's done.' When something new came along, it was a transition."
Even while making the adjustments, Hayden has been a key to the Colts' defense. The most experienced player in the secondary, Hayden is a veteran among a group of young corners who have played extensive, crucial roles the past two seasons.
"When you watch Kelvin play, he's a complete corner," Colts second-year cornerback Jerraud Powers said. "He has the speed. He has the ball skills, the coverage ability. He has all the tangibles that go into a corner. As a young guy watching a veteran, I see his routine every week, what he does to prepare and how he takes care of his body, how he studies a receiver, routes – whatever the case may be."
Powers said Polian told him upon being drafted there were similarities between he and Hayden.
"Me knowing our styles were very similar, I watch his every move," Powers said. "We'll be in the middle of a game and come to the sideline and I'll say, 'What are you getting? How are you playing it? How are you seeing it?' I'm telling him I saw it the same way or that I did this or that.
"I sort of try to mimic him, because he's been successful."
Hayden since playing 16 games in his first season as a starter has struggled at times with injuries the past two seasons. He missed six games in 2008 and seven more last season, and said before the season staying healthy was a priority.
If he played all games, he said, the improvement he was seeking would take care of itself.
Hayden, after registering one interception and five passes defensed in eight starts last season, has defensed eight passes with two interceptions this season.
"I didn't think it was as tough as it may have seemed," Hayden said. "It was more buying in and getting all of the habits and things that I was doing from the last defense out of the way. It was a matter of going out there and being confident.
"That's one thing I've been trying to do: just stay confident, be consistent and have fun."
And without question, Hayden said, that's been happening lately.
"No doubt," he said. "Things were new, and at the same time, I was injured, so I wasn't out there as much (last season). The reps were minimized to the max. It was more of a classroom deal to me, and with anything new, you've got to get out there to do it.
"Unfortunately, I wasn't out there enough, but now I'm trying to stay healthy and continue to get better game to game."
QUOTE FROM WR-AUSTIN COLLIE"I certainly have appreciated all of the thoughts and prayers received over the past couple of weeks. Every day I feel like I am improving, and it was great to get back on the field in some capacity on Wednesday. The doctors and training staff here have been tremendous, I can't say that enough. I understand everyone's concern, but I prefer not to discuss the specifics of the play in Philadelphia, and I hope that can be respected. It was a football play, and that's part of football. Now, I want to focus my efforts on continuing the gradual process of getting back on the field and helping our team as we approach a very crucial part of our season."