Latest in a series of posts on NFC North rookies who have generated some spring buzz.
Safety and wide receiver are probably the two easiest positions to be fooled by in non-contact spring practices. Perhaps that's why we've already profiled two receivers in our periodic Rookie Buzz series, and now it's time to examine our first safety.
The Chicago Bears' Brandon Hardin is making the sizable transition from a college cornerback to an NFL safety. That means his head was undoubtedly swimming during the Bears' organized team activities and minicamp. But there was no mistaking his 6-foot-3, 217-pound frame and the possibilities it suggests both as a multi-dimensional safety as well as a special teams contributor. That potential, at least, drew raves toward the end of the Bears' spring practices.
Hardin's size gives him a better chance than most safeties when matched up against the pass-catching tight ends in this division, whether it is the Green Bay Packers' Jermichael Finley, the Detroit Lions' Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler or the Minnesota Vikings' John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph. Ostensibly, his coverage skills will be further developed than most college safeties.
"The one thing that we noticed," Bears general manager Phil Emery said, "is that he's very good at using his size and physicalness at leveraging receivers. … This gives us a strong, dynamic, fast athlete to match up some of the tight end challenges that we have. … He’s 6-3, 217 [pounds.] This was a guy that was playing corner. That's a huge corner. He ran a 4.44 and a 4.42 [in the 40], so there are a lot of physical gifts there to work with."
And, to say the least, Hardin shouldn't be outmuscled in run defense.
"[H]e's not afraid of contact," Emery said. "Sometimes you worry a little bit about that with corners. They're kind of skill/finesse guys. What kind of tackler they will be if you move them to safety? I have no worry about this guy. He will come down in the box and strike people. When he's been on the backside of formations, without a wide out, where he's close down and had to come through the tight end alley, he's all about that."
Hardin didn't play in 2011 because of a shoulder injury, but Emery said he personally scouted him twice during the 2010 season. We'll have to wait until training camp to observe his desire to "strike" people, and we'll also get a better idea if he'll make the transition quickly enough to push for a starting job.
Given the Bears' revolving door at safety under coach Lovie Smith, it seems reasonable to assume Hardin will get his chance at some point this season. The Bears' top two safeties entering training camp -- Major Wright and Chris Conte -- were third-round picks as well.
Until then, you can expect Hardin to see action on as many special teams groups as the Bears can squeeze him into. But unless he proves a complete bust, a 6-foot-3 safety will get an opportunity for a prominent job sooner rather later.
Earlier: Ryan Broyles could be a gem as a slot receiver for the Detroit Lions. Greg Childs could be the downfield receiver the Minnesota Vikings are looking for. Nick Perry sure looks like the stud pass rusher the Green Bay Packers were looking for.