Bears' Hardin has all the tools
Bears' Hardin has all the tools
Big defensive back learning ropes at safety after being college cornerback
On the NFL
9:29 p.m. CDT, June 13, 2012
Truth be told, not much is revealed about a football team in padless practices in May and June.
About 75 percent of what your eyes tell you is an outright lie. And another 20 percent is half truth
But one thing the eyes are not deceiving us about is the Bears have a big, athletic player in the back end of their defense who can move, and this player is unlike any of his teammates.
At 6 foot 3 and nearly 220 pounds, Brandon Hardin stands out.
He was a cornerback at Oregon State and in high school, but he will be a safety in the NFL.
That being the case, the third-round draft pick could have a more challenging transition to the pros than the average rookie.
"There is somewhat of a learning curve," Hardin said. "I'm thinking a lot more, playing a new position. I'm still thinking somewhat about the drops, trying to get quarterback reads, what the receivers are doing. The coaches tell me it will all come second nature eventually."
I asked secondary coach Jon Hoke what has been Hardin's most difficult transition so far.
"I would say having a feel for deep zones, knowing where he is back there," Hoke said. "Sometimes he'll get a little wide off a landmark. That and leverage angles, keeping the ball outside in or inside out. The more he does it at full speed, it will come."
Not only was Hardin a college cornerback, but he played mostly man-to-man. The whole zone concept is like a new language for him.
The position switch has worked well for his teammate Chris Conte. At California, Conte didn't become a safety until his senior season.
For the time being, Hardin is focusing strictly on free safety, which is the position that should be best for him. But once his head stops spinning, Hardin will learn strong safety as well.
Hardin, who was on the Pac-10 All-Academic team twice, should find his intelligence an asset.
"When you talk to him, he understands football," Hoke said. "He can talk the scheme to you. We do written tests in the offseason on formations, adjustments, those types of things. He has done a good job with it."
Even though Hardin is green, I'll be surprised if he does not factor into the Bears 2012 season.
Right now, he is competing for the third or fourth safety spot with Craig Steltz. Even if he ends up fourth on the depth chart, it is likely he will get a chance to play, given the team's history of changing safeties as frequently as you would change disposable contact lenses.
Given that he ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash, jumped vertically 351/2 inches, broad-jumped 10-4 and bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times, Hardin should be an immediate contributor on special teams.
The most intriguing way he could contribute quickly is as a package player.
In a league that is relying increasingly on big, athletic tight ends, defensive solutions are difficult to find. Hardin has the potential to be one.
He is that rare athlete who has strength, length and the ability to turn and run with a tight end such as the Packers' Jermichael Finley.
And even though safety is new to Hardin, he is experienced at covering tight ends.
"Throughout college I had to cover tight ends," he said. "That's fun. With a bigger body, I can use my athleticism and my size. Eventually if I come down and match up with a tight end, that's in my comfort zone, it's what I'm used to."
For Hardin to develop and contribute, he will have to stay on the field. He missed his senior season with a broken shoulder and a broken hand and sprained wrist affected him as a freshman.
During organized team activities, he was limited for a short spell because of a back issue.
In a perfect world, this season Hardin is a special teams player and defensive spectator.
"Hopefully we stay healthy and Major (Wright) and Chris keep improving and we can keep him in a special teams role as a backup and then start bringing him along," Hoke said. "If you keep bringing him along, you'll have something special."
That potential for something special is one of the few truths of minicamp.