With his intriguing combination of size, speed, versatility and instincts, Brandon Hardin looks like he belongs in the NFL.
What role he'll play, how productive he'll be and how soon he'll get there is yet to be determined. He could be another Brendan Ayanbadejo or a bigger, better Mike Brown. But he looks like he'll be here for awhile.
Hardin, the Bears' third-round pick from Oregon State, didn't make a particular huge impression in his NFL debut in the Bears' 31-3 loss to the Denver Broncos at Soldier Field on Thursday night. He had a pass defense that could have been an interception. He missed a few tackles. But he didn't feel or look out of place.
''I played like a rookie,'' said Hardin, playing in his second game since the end of the 2010 season after suffering a separated shoulder during preseason training at Oregon State last year. ''Everything was moving very fast. [But] I definitely learned. Getting that first game under my belt was definitely good.
''There were a bunch of nerves and the plays were all moving fast. But hopefully I'll calm down more when I'm out there ... and continue to improve.''
Hardin nearly had a big play early. Playing free safety in the second quarter, he closed on a deep pass from Caleb Hanie to Jason Hill and missed an interception but still deflected the ball for an incompletion.
''I was comfortable out there,'' Hardin said. ''Could have made a play on the interception, or the dropped interception, really. That's a play I definitely need to make.''
For the 6-3, 217-pound Hardin, it was a good learning experience. He seems to know what he doesn't know. And while he isn't expecting too much too soon, he is confident it's just a matter of time.
''The speed of the game -- it definitely showed this game,'' he said. ''Trying to tackle good running backs, it was an eye-opener that this isn't college and guys aren't going to try to just run through you. They're going to try to shake you more. I definitely need to improve on that.''
Hardin, a cornerback in college, played only in the East-West Shrine Game last season after missing the entire Oregon State season because of the injury. He had not played in a game with his team since Dec. 4, 2010, when he had a blocked a PAT and recovered a fumbled punt in a 37-20 loss to No. 2 Oregon in Corvallis.
He played on all four phases of special teams against the Broncos. At the least, he's expected to be a factor there. But considering the way the Bears have gone through safeties in recent seasons he could contribute at either free or strong safety before this season is over. It's a matter of how quickly he learns as much as anything else. The signs Thursday night were positive.
''Definitely by the second or third series I started to collect myself more and widen my vision,'' Hardin said, ''and I think that's where I made a good break on the ball and almost got the interception. That was because I got out there and slowed down my breathing [and] tried to correct things out there on the run.''