Throughout Lovie Smith's tenure in Chicago, the safety position has been nothing more than a revolving door. In Smith's eight seasons as head coach, the Bears have selected a safety in each draft, including this year's third-round choice, Brandon Hardin.
The selection of Hardin took many fans off guard. Hardin was graded by most teams somewhere around a late fourth to early fifth-round selection. After breaking his shoulder before his senior year, Hardin was forced to miss all of the 2011 season, and the only game he has played in in the last year was the East-West Shrine game.
Measuring in at 6'3" and weighing in at nearly 220 pounds, Hardin is a big bigger than a prototypical NFL safety. Hardin has good instincts but never really had much of a knack for the ball (one interception in 38 career games). Despite many viewing Hardin as free safety, the Bears have discussed the possibility of using him as a strong safety.
Hardin spent the beginning of rookie mini-camps as a free safety, but given his lack of experience at the position, it is the easier of the two safety positions, and he will likely make the transition to strong safety during training camp.
One key to being a good strong safety, especially in the Bears cover-2 defense, is the ability to come up in the box and stop the run. Probably the single strongest aspect of Hardin's game is his ability to stop the run.
Hardin is able to put hard hits on opposing players and has enough speed to plug the hole or force the runner to the outside. Hardin's size, as well as his experience at cornerback, offers him the opportunity to match up well with both receivers and tight ends.
In an interview this past week with ESPN 1000's Waddle & Silvy, Brian Urlacher said:
"He can cover, he can run. He's put together and can cover people."
Urlacher's praise of the rookie should not go unnoticed. Although the Bears are not currently practicing in pads, its telling that a veteran like Urlacher has already been impressed by Hardin.
With Hardin's size, athleticism and run-stopping ability, Lovie Smith and the Bears may have finally found that safety they can rely on having in the defensive backfield for years to come.