Chicago Bears rookie safety Brandon Hardin, selected in the third round out of Oregon State, had a rough preseason. After missing his senior season in college due to injury, Hardin suffered his second season-ending injury in as many years during Chicago's second preseason game.
Bear Report caught up with Hardin today in the Halas Hall locker room to see how he's progressing in his recovery.
"My rookie year is winding down and it's definitely different from what I'd thought or hoped it would be.
"Going on IR is a difficult thing, mainly in the sense that once you are IR, the NFL has very strict rules in terms of what you can or can't do with the team. For example, I had a neck strain. Got it against the Redskins during the preseason. At the time, we weren't sure exactly what was involved and how quickly it would heal. I was checked in the hospital immediately after it happened, then put on IR shortly thereafter. Neck injuries can be tricky as you can't take a chance of injuring things further. That could be the end of a pro career.
"In my case, the injury ended up being relatively minor. It would have impacted my ability to play for sure, but it also healed rapidly. I found myself feeling pretty good overall, but having to stand on the sidelines during any practices or games.
S Brandon Hardin
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports
"As a rookie who really wants to get in there, watching the other guys play was difficult. The good part was that the Bears have two of the top safeties in the league. I made it my mission to observe everything that they did for the entire season. It's amazing how much you can pick up doing that. The vets have made themselves available to answer any questions I've had along the way and that made a big difference in my understanding of the game at this level.
"I've been in all the position meetings since my injury so the mental aspect of understanding the pro game is going well. Physically I'm 100 percent. There was a little bit of rehab initially but that was a long time ago.
"I work out regularly. In fact I'm leaving the locker room in a minute to do some sprints up and down the field. That's OK with the league as long as I am not working out while the team is practicing. I'm satisfied that my conditioning is where it should be and I'm looking forward to getting the opportunity to work out with the team next season.
"What do I have to prove now? Well, everything I guess. I view my situation sort of as a redshirt player in college. I'm on the team but not participating. I've tried to view this as a learning experience, a chance to absorb as much as I can without actually participating. How well this has worked will be evident when the team begins workouts for the new season.
"I've spent some of my free time keeping in touch with my former Oregon State teammates. I also visited the campus during our bye week this fall. Oregon State has had a great season and they're going to a bowl game. How great is that? It was important to me to go back to campus this year. I wanted to let them know how proud I am of what they've accomplished. They always encouraged me when I was trying for the NFL and now it's my turn to return the favor."
How have you felt about not being able to play while the team has struggled?
"It's been tough to see the team struggling in some of those games after such a great start. Standing on the sidelines, I've wanted to want to run out on to the field and help out. And of course I've seen all the injuries. I certainly can relate to that. Nobody ever imagined we'd have this record at this point in the season. All that's left to do now is win out and make it to the playoffs."
How are you feeling mentally after not playing for so long?
"The only way to approach the situation of spending rookie year on IR is to try to take it as a learning opportunity. I still feel I'm a part of this team. I'm contributing in any way I can. I've seen how the vets handle adversity but still keep playing, giving 100 percent. If they can go through difficult situations, then so can I.
"My goal is to get my job back. I'm not sure at this point what my job would be. Maybe special teams is where I'll end up. But no matter where they put me, I'm ready to contribute. I'm rested, I'm strong and I'm completely healed. There should be no barriers for me in 2013."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.