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Bears’ Brandon Hardin has more to learn than other rookies

DevHester acknowledges crowd Thursday Olivet Nazarene University. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Devin Hester acknowledges the crowd Thursday at Olivet Nazarene University. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: August 28, 2012 6:24AM

BOURBONNAIS — Brandon Hardin’s first NFL training camp practice was an eye-opener before he even stepped on the field Thursday at Olivet Nazarene University.

‘‘Coming out of the locker room and seeing all the fans out here, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s awesome,’’ said Hardin, a third-round draft pick from Oregon State. ‘‘It gets you excited. It gets you in the right mode for practice.’’

Hardin has a bigger adjustment than most rookies in the NFL. Not only did he not play at Oregon State last year after suffering a broken shoulder in fall camp, but he is playing safety in the NFL after being a cornerback in college and high school.

The 6-3, 217-pound Hardin, who ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at his pro day before the draft, is being pegged as a four-phase special teams player this season. But the Bears have told him he also will get an opportunity to win a starting job at safety. If Chris Conte solidifies his starting spot at free safety, Hardin could battle Major Wright for playing time at strong safety.

‘‘I’m making the adjustment [to safety] well so far,’’ Hardin said. ‘‘Learning more and more every day, and that’s the key for me — getting my head in the playbook and learning all I can.’’

Is he learning quickly enough to contribute at safety this season?

‘‘I believe I am,’’ he said. ‘‘Coach [Lovie Smith] believes that I can. I’m looking forward to proving to everybody that I can.’’

Most improved player

Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said Devin Hester was the most improved receiver from last year ‘‘in every way possible.’’ Hester had just 26 receptions in Mike Martz’s offense last season for 369 yards and one touchdown.

‘‘If he doesn’t have more than that [this season], we failed him,’’ Drake said. ‘‘The only time he had 26 catches was when? Last year. We didn’t throw it to him. Whose fault is that? It wasn’t his.’’

Well, whose fault was it then?

‘‘I don’t know,’’ Drake said. ‘‘Not mine.’’

New sheriff in town

First-year offensive coordinator Mike Tice didn’t name names, but he called out his players for some lackluster play — including fumbles by Kahlil Bell and rookie Alshon Jeffery — in the Bears’ first practice Thursday. He didn’t even need to be asked.

‘‘Can’t put the ball on the ground. And can’t jump offsides,’’ Tice said. ‘‘I know it’s the first day and we’re working on a lot of things on the line of scrimmage. But we’re also coming off an offseason of a bunch of practices that we did it right.

‘‘We can’t come out the first day and look like we never did it before. So we’re not going to put up with that. We’re going to have a higher bar than that. We’re going to set the ceiling a lot higher than that.’’

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