By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) The reality of the fourth and final preseason game is that most of the decisions have already been made.
It’s tough, but there’s very little most of the “bubble guys” can do to sway the thinking of general manager Phil Emery, head coach Marc Trestman and the rest of the coaching staff.
“We’ve met so much that most of those meetings at the end are really just kind of to finalize things more than anything else,” assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. “We’ve met a lot of times on personnel during this camp, so we have a good feel of where we’re going to go.”
Thus, the number of players who may actually be able to determine their fate Thursday night against the Browns is very limited. And pinpointing those guys isn’t easy.
But safety Brandon Hardin, who Emery drafted in the third round a year ago, believes he is one of those guys.
“It’s a huge game,” Hardin said. “I really just got to get out there and prove that I belong on this team. It’s one of those games where I just really got to go play probably four quarters and show that I belong here.”
Hardin came to the Bears via Oregon State where he brought big hit and impact play potential. Unfortunately, it was exactly that kind of potential that led to him missing two full seasons of football. Hardin missed his final season at Oregon State with a shoulder injury, and then was lost for all of his rookie season when he suffered a neck injury in the second preseason game a year ago. The injury came as a result of him going for a big hit with poor tackling form.
That’s a hard sequence of events to come back from when you’re trying to make an NFL roster and it has left Hardin in a tough spot. He’s trying to maintain his aggressive style of play, while also trying to avoid another major injury.
“I don’t think there was anything mentally (that held me back),” Hardin said. “I did tackle the first game, I tackled correctly with good form, so that’s always good.”
Hardin admits he was a little behind the first few days of training camp, but he maintains he got over last year’s neck injury quickly and hasn’t thought about it on the field. Still, he hasn’t shown much during the preseason, and that has left him in the position where he is now: putting it all on the line in the final preseason game.
“To get that many reps, compared to these first three games, getting 25, 30 reps, able to get in three-plus quarters will be real big for me,” Hardin said. “A chance to prove everything.”
But he’s just hoping those chances actually come. The coaching staff wants to see Hardin have production on the ball. He forced some fumbles on the practice field in training camp, but hasn’t done much in the games. Part of that is his fault and some of it isn’t. His reps have been limited as he works primarily with the third team and even when he’s been in, the ball hasn’t necessarily come his way.
“That can be very frustrating, because all you can do as a player is put yourself in that good position,” Hardin said. “Sometimes the ball won’t come your way and that’s just kind of how the ball rolls. So when the time does come, it’s taking advantage of all those opportunities.”
With the playing time Hardin will receive Thursday, those opportunities should be plentiful. From there, it’s up to him to execute and show the coaches that he does indeed belong on the 53-man roster.
And he also has to hope that the decision hasn’t already been made.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.