Not all veterans are inclined to devote much concern for rookies, and certainly not injured rookies. But the emotional support they gave to safety Brandon Hardin won’t be soon forgotten.
Hardin, the team’s third-round pick in the 2012 draft, was lost for the year with a neck injury during preseason. The first part of his good fortune was that the injury turned out to be less serious than originally feared.
The second part of his good fortune was in the locker room where teammates didn’t forget about him.
“I was healthy by week five so that was the frustrating part,” Hardin told CSNChicago.com at this weekend’s Bears Care Gala at Soldier Field. “But the veterans said, ‘Just don’t check out, don’t just go through the motions, really try to learn things.’ So I was able to learn and it really did feel like a redshirt year.
“And I did get the perspective from guys that ‘you’ve just added a year onto your career,’” Hardin added. “Because the [neck] injury wasn’t that serious, and with the timing and then numbers [at safety], that part was OK.”
As they had in the previous two drafts, the Bears in 2012 used a third-round pick on a safety. That means three 3’s at a position with only two job openings. That means competition. Coaches love that, even if players don’t always.
In 2010 it was Major Wright, who went through an injury speckled rookie year and never started. But strong safety Danieal Manning was gone after that season and Wright was able to wrest starts away from Chris Harris, who was released. Wright started all 16 games at strong safety last season.
In 2011 it was Chris Conte in round three. When Brandon Meriweather unraveled after four starts and the job at free safety was Conte’s before he, like Wright in his own rookie season, was injured an ankle and missed the final two games.
In 2012 it was Hardin. He had the seemingly requisite Bears’ safety injury issue – a season-ending neck injury in preseason – and now…?
Wright, like Manning in 2010, is in a contract year. Hardin will be hard pressed to unseat either Wright or Conte but he was ready to be in the mix last year health-wise and would like to make up for the lost time.
“Now it almost does feel like a fresh start because of the new coaches and yet we’ve got the same defensive scheme. It feels like a new situation but the same with the same players around and same scheme.”