BOURBONNAIS -- Most rookies in the NFL can't wait to get on the field, and Bears cornerback Isaiah Frey was no different last season, even though he was a lightly regarded sixth-round pick.
But the Nevada product spent the entire season on the practice squad. Still, he insists it wasn't time wasted because he got to observe firsthand the cornerbacks who were playing ahead of him, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
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"I had two Pro Bowl starters in front of me, and I got to sit back and watch how they prepared for the game and how they played in the game," Frey said. "I think I know a lot more of the defense this year.
"I was able to sit back and watch Peanut (Tillman) and Tim last year, and I think I learned a lot from those dudes."
Frey also credits defensive backs coach Jon Hoke with helping him through a season that involved more watching and waiting than playing. That's not something the 6-foot, 190-pounder was familiar with after starting 37 games in his final three years at Nevada.
"It was tough at first," he admitted. "But coach Hoke kept me involved. He had me do some preparation things for the team, study opponents and bring it back and present it to the team. So I was always involved.
"Coach Hoke, in the meeting room last year, taught us pass-route concepts, and I'm able to see what's coming before it happens."
With nickel cornerback Kelvin Hayden likely out for two weeks or so with a hamstring injury, Frey will be more involved than ever. He already had gotten some work with the ones when Jennings missed a couple of practices for the birth of his child and when Tillman was given a day off.
The 23-year-old Frey has made the most of his opportunities, flashing big-play ability with an interception or impressive pass breakups almost every day. At Monday's practice he caught an errant pass, even though he was standing on the sideline.
"Yeah, it seems like the ball is kind of a magnet towards me right now," he said. "I've just got to keep making the plays."
Coaches have noticed the plays he has made so far, including Monday, when he also intercepted a Jay Cutler pass intended for tight end Martellus Bennett, who had slipped.
"He made a play," coach Marc Trestman said. "Whether another player fell down or not, he made another play. He's shown up each and every day.
"Certainly with Kelvin down now and being week to week, his ability to play nickel and play the corner and be part of the mix in finding the best group of DBs and corners that we can is going to be very important."
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has been impressed with Frey's demeanor as well as his talent.
"I like him," Tucker said. "I'm pulling for him because every day he comes out with a great attitude. He's got a smile on his face. He's not playing cautious. He's looking to make plays.
"He's doing what he's coached to do. That's what you're looking for out of young players. He's a great young man, and we're just really excited about the progress he's been making out here on a day-to-day basis."
Frey is a long way from unseating the Bears' starting corners, but his ability to play nickel combined with the uncertainty of Hayden's injury could make him a key player in sub packages.
Even when Hayden returns, defenses frequently employ four cornerbacks in what has become a pass-heavy NFL.
Although he was listed with the third team on Monday's first depth chart of the year, Frey's a serious contender for the No. 4 CB spot. If his impressive play continues in Friday night's preseason opener at Carolina it would continue to improve his escalating stock.
"He's making a lot of plays," Hoke said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence right now. He's been here for a year; he understands the systems and what the position, especially at nickel, has been asked of him.
"He's been extremely productive with what he's done, and a little bit of it is he's playing with confidence."
That comes with accepting good coaching and emulating a pair of Pro Bowlers.
•Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.