Bears' hidden treasure: Safety

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

The Chicago Bears' annual search for long(er)-term answers at safety has turned up some interesting possibilities for 2012.

Rookie Brandon Hardin, a third-round draft pick, was one of the standouts of offseason practice, in part because of his unusual 6-foot-3 frame. History suggests Hardin will get his starting chance sooner rather than later. Hardin was a cornerback at Oregon State, which can translate well into coverage skills for safeties at the professional level.

Along with Hardin, the Bears have a second-year prospect in Chris Conte, who made a positive impression last season before suffering a foot injury. Coach Lovie Smith has long been a fan of Major Wright, and veteran Craig Steltz hasn't embarrassed anyone in the short stints he has received in recent years.