The Bears selected rookie safety Brandon Hardin in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft out of Oregon State fresh off a senior season-ending shoulder injury. The team will now place him on Injured Reserve, effectively ending his 2012 NFL campaign, the Bears’ Media Relations Coordinator confirmed on Sunday.
Hardin suffered what appeared to be a nasty neck injury against the Washington Redskins in week-2 of preseason exhibition and was subsequently carted off the field at the start of the third quarter. He was admitted to the hospital, but had full use of his extremities and was released the following day.
While Hardin’s size, strength and athleticism are certainly impressive, he did little to impress at the position of free safety during camp and was a question-mark heading into the season as the team’s backup behind Chris Conte.
Conte, who is also currently sidelined with a shoulder injury (go figure), is heading into his second year with the Bears. He spent the end of last season on Injured Reserve himself with a foot injury.
And it’s not just Hardin and Conte. If you want to get an idea about just how much of a problem this position has been for the Bears and Lovie Smith, I suggest you read my column from last week.
What is truly mind-boggling is how the same issues can continue to haunt the same position on the same team for nearly a decade. Hardin was initially projected as a fourth- or even fifth-round draft selection by scouts, mostly due to his inexperience, but also due to his liability as an injury risk. Emery felt he was a steal in the third.
"We feel that [Hardin] could push it up into the starter level over time,” Phil Emery said in his post-Draft press conference. “But he has to earn that. He's medically sound. He has a clean medical grade."
To be fair, third-round selections are rarely impact players in year one, and it’s likely that Hardin would have seen minimal time at the position on gameday. But, minimal or not, he needs to play in order to improve. A senior collegiate season on the bench followed by a freshman NFL season on the bench will doing nothing to help him become the starter that Phil Emery talked about.
Hardin’s placement on IR likely opens the door for the Bears to keep second-year safety Anthony Walters, who has performed well throughout the preseason.
Aside from the existing roster, the team is also likely to look outside the organization for veteran help as teams across the League will cut over a combined 400 players this week. No, they’re not likely to find even an All-Pro at this stage of the game, but they will at least be on the lookout.
In fact, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Vaughn McClure, the team is interested in former Packers safety Charlie Peprah. Peprah finished 2011 with five interceptions, including one for a touchdown. The downside?
Why, he’s injury-prone. What else?