BOURBONNAIS (MCT) — It took Brandon Hardin all of one offseason practice to learn a valuable lesson from a veteran teammate.
The 6-foot-3, 222-pound safety swooped in for a tackle during organized team activities before pulling up short during the non-contact session. The play drew a chorus of oohs and aahs because of what could have happened had it been live action.
“You just knew that the receiver would have gotten nailed after jumping for the ball,” Hardin recalled. “But (Brian) Urlacher turned to me and said, ‘Nice break, would have been a good hit, but you would have gotten fined for it.’ “
Urlacher wasn’t trying to be too hard on the rookie.
“I don’t care if they get penalties. I’m not paying their fines,” Urlacher said with a laugh.
“But seriously, he’s aggressive. I like that kid a lot. I like his movement. He really gets to the football.”
Whether Hardin gets on the field regularly this season is another story. The Bears obviously thought highly enough of him to invest a third-round draft pick. Their previous two third-round selections — Major Wright and Chris Conte — comprise the projected starting safety tandem.
The position has been like a turnstile in recent years due to a slew of injuries and poor play. Last season alone, the Bears used eight different starting safety combinations.
Some figured Hardin would immediately press Wright for playing time at strong safety, but the team’s immediate plans are to keep Hardin at free safety behind Conte. During training camp, Hardin has worked with the second team alongside backup strong safety Craig Steltz. Hardin also is working as the first-string personal protector on punts.
His physical nature was evident during Saturday night’s first padded practice, but he has plenty to learn.
“Playing him at both spots? Oh, that’s a lot for a guy,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “Let’s just go get good at one thing first.”
Hardin already has quite an adjustment to conquer. He played cornerback in high school and in college at Oregon State. The guy in front of him, Conte, made the same transition last season and drew rave reviews.
Marinelli explained the philosophy behind drafting corners to play safety.
“It’s athleticism,” he said. “People are spreading the field on you more, opening the field up. That day of the guy wearing the big neck roll and coming down tackling is not there. You need athleticism.”
Hardin’s 4.4-speed in the 40 should be an asset, but his injury history could be a liability. He suffered a broken shoulder before last season and did not play as a senior. In 2008, Hardin played most of the Beavers’ season with a fractured left hand and sprained right wrist.
Then during offseason workouts at Halas Hall, Hardin was sidelined three days with back spasms. It was bad timing for a player trying to make a strong first impression.
“I pretty much was like, ‘Man, what next?’ It’s about trying to go through the season without any injuries, and I think that’s on every player’s mind,” Hardin said. “Some of it is luck. My shoulder, I put that under the freak accident/unlucky category. But I’m definitely trying to mitigate and stay on top of the injuries that I can control. The back is one of them.”
With the back issues behind for now, Hardin hopes the next step involves turning heads with a jaw-dropping hit — a legal one, that is.
“Obviously if we hurt someone like Brandon Marshall in practice, that’s the end for us,” Hardin said. “It’s trying to find that balance of ‘how aggressive can you be?’
“Now that we have pads, you’re allowed to be a little bit more aggressive. On game day, that’s when it really comes out. And during the year, my goal is to not get too many fines.”
©2012 Chicago Tribune
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