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Greg Hardy is Carolina Panthers' man of character

2013 Carolina Panthers Training Camp | Spartanburg, S.C.

By Scott Fowler
sfowler@charlotteobserver.com

SPARTANBURG The most interesting NFL teams always have a few characters – players who cheerfully break the mold and embrace the microphone. The Carolina Panthers have had their share over the years – Willie Green, Lamar Lathon, Kevin Greene and Rod “He Hate Me” Smart, to name a few.

Defensive end Greg Hardy, however, may vie for the title of biggest character in Panthers' history before it's over. He is working hard at it already, outlandishly predicting 50 sacks for himself this season (the NFL record is 22.5) and nicknaming members of the defensive line as various species of monsters.

You get the feeling that Hardy would be OK being the Dennis Rodman of the 2013 Panthers, although for now his hair remains its original color. In a league where most player interviews could be described as gray, Hardy is a vibrant coat of many colors. He is also really, really confident.

A sampling of Hardy from Tuesday:

-- On if he has hit his ceiling yet as a player: “There is no roof. The sky keeps going. So that's where I'm going to go.”

-- On what he planned to do on the Panthers' off day Wednesday: “Sleep, some more sleep and maybe a massage and come back and dominate some more.”

-- On whether he cared to back off from his outrageous 50-sack prediction: “You got a TV? Watch.”

Hardy, 25, is entering his fourth year in the NFL – a contract year for him. A former sixth-round draft choice out of Mississippi, he is a huge bargain by NFL standards this season (he will be paid slightly more than million in the final year of his rookie deal) but won't be for much longer. As Panther coach Ron Rivera noted, there is a “carrot” out there for Hardy. In his case, the carrot is gold-plated – if he can have a similar or better season to the 11-sack breakout year he had in 2012.

You might expect a middle-aged man like myself to “tsk, tsk” Hardy, to tell him to be quiet at least until he's actually played on one winning NFL team or made a Pro Bowl. But I won't do that. Hardy is refreshing to talk to. His teammates see his antics as pretty harmless, and I would agree. The most entertaining recent Hardy-ism is renaming the other defensive linemen to conform with his idea that the Panthers' D-line should be christened “Monsters Inc.” or something similar.

Hardy has long called himself the “Kraken,” but has added names for Charles “The Loch Ness Monster” Johnson, Kawaan “Minotaur” Short, Star “Hydra” Lotulelei and Dwan “Phoenix” Edwards (because Edwards keeps “rising” out of the ashes to resurrect his NFL career, Hardy said).

How does he come up with these names?

“I am really talented,” Hardy said.

Athletically, he's got a point. Hardy played a little offense at Ole Miss, caught three passes and scored on all of them. He also played briefly for the Rebels' basketball team.

Hardy has had maturity issues. That's the primary reason a first-round talent like him lasted until the sixth round in the 2010 draft. In 2011, he showed up at training camp with bandages everywhere from a motorcycle wreck and missed much of the preseason.

“I thought I was going to be dead,” Hardy once said of that wreck. In 2012, he posted a picture on Twitter that appeared to show him driving in excess of 100 miles an hour. Coach Ron Rivera and other members of the staff have pulled Hardy aside and given him the “You've got to be careful” talk several times.

But Hardy has stayed out of trouble recently and looks to be in great shape. Hardy said he ended the 2012 training camp around 305 pounds – “it was nice looking,” he quickly added, speaking of the extra weight – but now weighs closer to 280.

Hardy ran six miles a day during a lot of the offseason, he said. “I feel like it's paying off,” he said. “I have the mobility and the agility I didn't have last year. ... I'm hoping to end camp around 275 pounds, just so I can get off that edge against these big left tackles.”

And, just in case you missed it the first time, Hardy has one last thought to reiterate about the defensive line this season.

“Y'all stay tuned,” he said. “Be at your TVs. It's going to be good.”

When you talk like that, it better be.

Scott Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler; 704
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