Oregon St.'s Brandon Hardin, who missed all of the 2011 season after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a chipped bone, had already done enough as both a corner back and on special teams to warrant an invite to the East-West Shrine Game, and not just an invite to the NFL Combine, but a close look.
His performance there and in pro day workouts, including a 4.38 40, was enough to prompt the Chicago Bears to select Hardin in the 3rd round of the NFL draft, with the 16th pick of the round, and 79th choice overall.
We got together with Lester Wiltfong Jr. of Windy City Gridiron, the site that covers "Da Bears" exhaustively for SB Nation, to exchange questions and answers in order to catch up both Beaver and Bear fans on what to expect of the next step in Hardin's career.
You can see our answers to Lester's questions here.
Beaver fans, of course, are curious as to what Hardin will encounter in Chicago.
With the Bears saying that he'll be competing at strong safety, that tells me they believe he has a chance to start. Current SS starter Major Wright had some injury issues, and he never had a stranglehold on the position anyway. I think Hardin will be a core special teamer to start, and if he shows enough in camp I think he'll be starting. Head Coach Lovie Smith has never shied away from putting a rookie in at safety.
Chicago had a .500 season, one year after winning the always very tough NFC North. Is the mood one of needing to make major changes to get back into the playoffs, or is it a case of needing to make a few adjustments? In either case, how does Hardin fit into those plans?
The Bears defense needed an influx of youth, there's just too many guys on the wrong side of 30. With 1st round DE Shea McClellin and Hardin drafted this year, along with 2nd year safety Chris Conte and former Beaver Stephen Paea from last year, it should give the D a shot in the arm. The Bears believe the improvements they made on offense will be a help to the defense by allowing them to rest up while watching longer offensive drives. And if the Bears can get the opposition in catch up mode, having a couple fast safeties patrolling the secondary is a good thing.
The Bears under Lovie Smith have always been a Tampa 2 team, meaning a lot of 2 deep zone coverages with the safeties playing deep half. Last year they did more Cover 3 and Cover 1 than in years past, but the Bears are primarily a zone team. They've always been a very good defense in terms of disguising coverages. Hardin will play as quick as he can pick up the playbook. With Hardin's experience as a corner, it should allow the Bears to match him up with some of the more athletic tight ends in the NFL.
I can't say for certain, but I'm sure it helped. Coach Riley has NFL coaching experience, including coaching DBs at that level, so that can only be looked at as a plus.
The Bears were #5 in the NFC in points allowed, which is the bottom line for defenses, but the Chicago offense was in the lower half of the NFC for points scored. Yet the Bears drafted heavily for defense, Hardin included. Is this because they plan to get offensive help via free agents, or was it just a case of the best players available being mostly defensive players? Or was there an attrition issue that made restocking on defense a greater priority?
The Bears truly believe that a full off season coupled with a revamped offensive system from new play caller Mike Tice will solve the Bears offensive line issues. They drafted a starting caliber wide out in Alshon Jeffery in the 2nd, and they traded two 3rds for a true #1 WR in Brandon Marshall. The company line from Bears GM Phil Emery was that the players they drafted were highest on their board at their positions, but getting some youth on that defense had to be a priority.
Thanks, Lester, for the insights! Beaver fans will be keeping a close eye on the Bears as the season gets started!