Bears hope Hardin builds on history of successful position changes


Bears hope Hardin builds on history of successful position changes

The Bears have had some extremely notable successes with players moving from a college position to a different one in the NFL. They hope that Brandon Hardin, a cornerback through high school and most of his career at Oregon State but now a safety with a Chicago Bears C on his helmet, is the latest in that distinguished record:

Jerry Azumah college running back to Pro Bowl kick returner and cornerback;
Mark Bortz college defensive tackle to Pro Bowl guard;
Brian Urlacher college safety to Pro Bowl middle linebacker;
James Big Cat Williams college defensive tackle to Pro Bowl right tackle.

Its always tough when you make any transition, said coach Lovie Smith. But you just look at some of the skills he has: great size for a safety. Hes a physical player as he played corner. So thats what were looking at there.

For Hardin, who missed his senior season with the exception of a Senior Bowl appearance, the change has not been a tough sell Exactly the opposite in fact.

It's been going great, said Hardin, the last of the Bears draft choices to get a contract in place. I've definitely been learning a lot. Since I am playing a new position, there's a lot to learn, a lot of coaching, but I think it's going really well so far.

I was actually looking forward to it. Even in college I was oversized for corner. With my physical size, I'm more suited for safety, so I was open to the change, and it's been a nice change and so far it's working out well.

Rookies are expected to be upbeat even amid any butterflies or intimidation. But Hardins impression of Hardin is in line with what his coaches are seeing.

With just some slight reservations.

Just coming into this league is an adjustment, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Now youre moving a little so of course theres some adjustment. But hes a big athlete, good speed, nice range, good ball skills, so now its just getting him the work, knowing what to do and letting his skills come alive.

Any enthusiasm needs to be put in context, because we only have two defenses in right now and havent seen a lot, Marinelli said. Right now hes just trying to build the skills, the keys, what to look at, angles, tackling, all those things. Were just getting a start with him but hes a big, talented kid who can run.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?


Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant,'s Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.