The good news keeps rolling in for the Atlanta Falcons, who are lucky enough to head into the 2011 season with a minimum of bumps and bruises. Even the new guys are getting in on the fun.
According to Knox Bardeen at CBS Sports, Brian Van Gorder fully expects Kelvin Hayden to be ready to go against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. That means the man many believe to be the prohibitive favorite for nickel back will see his first game snaps right off the bat. It will be good to see Hayden, who is undeniably talented, getting some snaps and showing the Falcons what he can do.
What he can do is pretty well-established. In just 11 games in 2010, he had 61 tackles, eight passes defensed and two interceptions. In parts of seven seasons, he's been good for nine picks and has generally been competent in both coverage and against the run. That's more than workable for the Falcons, who wanted a solid veteran presence at cornerback.
Just how effective Hayden will be is anyone's guess. As orang3b has noted, Hayden's injury history has limited his playing time and production over the last few years, and while he's undeniably talented, learning a new playbook takes time. I wouldn't be stunned to see him only get a handful of snaps in this one, with Chris Owens and Dominique Franks sharing nickel duties. In fact, the depth chart as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution strongly suggests that outcome, listing Hayden behind Owens.
Either way, it's a huge relief to know that the Falcons will be all but fully healthy for the first game of the season. Despite their flaws and foibles, the Bears are not a team to be taken lightly. More on that in the days to come.
What do you think Hayden's role will be against Chicago?