Hardin has special motivation to contribute
August, 2, 2012
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesBrandon Hardin is ready to contribute on special teams, but he'll be ready to start if needed.BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears rookie safety Brandon Hardin considers special teams the most reasonable route onto the field.
At the same time, he wants current starters Chris Conte and Major Wright to be on alert.
“Definitely, I want the (starting) spot," Hardin said. “I'm coming for it, and hopefully that will elevate everybody's play. If I'm right behind Chris and Major wanting the spot, trying to earn it, it's gonna push them and they're gonna have to earn it more, which will make our safeties and our team better."
Hardin's itch to take the field likely stems from inactivity, considering the rookie played in only one game (the 2012 Senior Bowl) in more than a year, after missing his entire senior campaign at Oregon State with a shoulder injury.
What's more is Hardin is attempting to transition from college cornerback to NFL safety. As a corner at Oregon State, Hardin played in 38 games, finishing with 105 tackles, three forced fumbles an interception and seven pass breakups.
Although Wright and Conte remain the starters, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wouldn't discount the possibility of a rookie overtaking a vet for the starting nod.
“In camp, it's open," Marinelli said. “We let every guy come in and compete. Show me game, put it on tape, and we'll see what you've got."
Interestingly, the Bears' selection of Hardin in the third round of the NFL draft last spring marked the third consecutive safety taken by the club with a third-round pick. Prior to Hardin, the Bears drafted Wright in the third round of 2010, and Conte the following year in the same round.
“Athletically, he's got everything you want," Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said of Hardin. “He's just not played the position. He's learning as we go, and he's a smart guy. So he's able to pick it up. With him, it'll just be (about) reps."
A two time all-Pac 10 academic selection, Hardin likely won't struggle to pick up the X's and O's of the game. One of the most significant chances for Hardin, he said, is the difference from corner to safety in terms of how he sees the field.
“It can be distracting. That's one thing I'm continuing work on and try to improve on, seeing the big picture if you will, seeing number one receiver all the way to number one receiver (basically, scanning the entire field), reading the quarterback, reading the linemen, reading how the formations come out and how routes develop," Hardin said. “You see everything, but it's (about) trying to now refine that and focus on what I need to focus on to be an effective safety. I'm finding that I'm reacting. It's just raw reaction. When the quarterback is stepping to go one way, I'm going full speed and trying to make a play. That's something that's helping me out so far. But also I need to learn how to control some of that. I can't be breaking full speed if the quarterback's looking me off. So it's really (about) taking that raw natural ability that I've been using right now and trying to refine it."
So far, the undertaking seems to be going well for Hardin, who is also is a part of every special teams unit. Hardin knows he'll contribute first on special teams, but hopes it's only a matter of time before he gets onto the field at safety.
History suggests he'll do so sometime as a rookie. After all, the Bears used eight combinations of starting safeties in 2011 over 16 games.
“The way I see it is kind of like college; freshman year all over again," Hardin said. “Get your foot in the door and start on special teams trying to help this team whichever way I can. But at the same time, I've got to be ready if my number's called."