By Ted Fleming
Greg Hardy DE, #76
Hometown: Millington, TN
Experience: 3 years
Nothing draws praise more than a victory and a day after the Panthers knocked off the Redskins there was a lot of it to spread around. While it seems like forever since anyone could legitimately throw superlatives the Cats’ way, it was arguably their best game since sometime back in 2011.
When head coach Ron Rivera came out for his day-after press conference on Monday it was like the weight of the football world had been lifted off his shoulders, and, for at least one week, quieted some of those hot seat rumors that trickled out after GM Marty Hurney was fired.
“I think, more so than anything is the resolve,” Rivera said about what has changed with the team over recent weeks. “I think part of it too is that we’ve been juggling guys around like we had to do last year [and] this year, I think three, four weeks ago we’ve settled in. I think we’ve started the same group and that’s big. I think we’ve found our identity. The biggest thing is the play of our defensive line and the development of that group.”
Defensive end Greg Hardy was one of the players singled out by Rivera who has played in all eight games this season, even displacing Antwan Applewhite as the starter for four of them. The third-year pro out of Mississippi has to be one of the bargains of the year making a base of $540,000 as part of his four-year rookie contract he signed after being taken in the sixth round (175th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft.
So far, Hardy has 32 tackles, 22 solo, but the number that jumps off the page is the number of sacks he has – 6.5. That is the exact number Applewhite has in his career so you see why he has quickly become one of Rivera’s go-to guys in a revamped and much improved defense.
Hardy is on a sack roll the last two games recording half of the Panthers six against the Bears’ Jay Cutler, who is considered a bit of a statue in the pocket. But to show he can do it against a more mobile quarterback, he added 1.5 on an elusive Robert Griffin III last Sunday.
“Greg Hardy has really done the things I think he needs to be to become a very good player in this league,” said Rivera. “This off-season I had a chance to sit down with him and discuss a lot of things about where we see him and what he needs to do. He’s taken that to heart. He’s still a young guy who will make some questionable decisions but we’re going to continue working with him.”
What Rivera was alluding to was on the Redskins first drive Hardy was flagged for roughing the passer on a third down play that should have resulted in a punt but gave RGIII the opportunity to march down the field before stalling on the 29 but it still led to three points they should not have had.
“When [Hardy] created the personal foul, he came to me right away and that was outstanding,” he said.
With just four starts under his belt, the 24-yard old from Millington, Tennessee is just one full sack behind team leader Charles Johnson who has started twice as many games. Hardy has proven what is happening now is no fluke ringing up some impressive stats in college – 39.5 tackles for loss, 26.5 sacks, 13 quarterback pressures, seven forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, one interception and 10 passes defensed. Now he gets a chance to see if he can better those numbers at the highest level of the sport.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.