LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- At first glance, Bears 2012 third-round pick Brandon Hardin seems to have the proper size to be an effective NFL in-the-box safety, even though the rookie played exclusively at cornerback during his college career at Oregon State.
Listed at 6-3, 217 pounds, Hardin arrived at Bears' rookie minicamp with a clean bill of health after sitting out the entire 2011 season due to a fractured shoulder that required surgery. Although he is currently the only unsigned member of the club's 2012 draft class, Hardin signed an injury waiver in order to participate in the three-day rookie camp at Halas Hall.
"It's nice to be back out here after dealing with that injury last season," Hardin said. "But actually, I feel fine. I don't feel like I have too much rust on me. It was easy to go back into it and start running which was really the fun part. Lucky enough, I got to play in the East-West Shrine Game back in January, so I was able to hit, tackle and test out the shoulder. What I found from that was that I was healthy and totally ready to go."
Hardin remained unsigned as of the start of Saturday's practice primarily because agents have found negotiating contracts for third-round picks to be difficult. While the deals for first-round choices are essentially slotted, the handful of third-round contracts completed so far have contained a wide range of bonus money, making it tougher for agents and teams to find common ground.
But while his contract situation gets resolved, Hardin's main focus over the weekend is to begin making the transition from cornerback to safety. He recorded an impressive 63 tackles at corner in 2010 which convinced the Bears that the young defensive back had the ability to handle the additional rigors of playing strong safety. Hardin joins a group of safeties that includes Major Wright, Chris Conte, Craig Steltz and Anthony Walters.
"(Bears assistant defensive backs/safeties coach) Gill Byrd is coaching me up really well," Hardin said. "I'm taking some of the athletic ability I had at corner and using it at safety. I never played safety at Oregon State, I was strictly a cornerback, but I did play safety at the East-West Shrine Game. I think mentally it will be the biggest transition (moving to safety). Learning the different route combinations and learning the different coverages. Getting that down to an NFL caliber. But I can play both free and strong safety. Whatever they want, I'll do it."