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2013 CAROLINA PANTHERS

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Greg Hardy plans breakout season for Carolina Panthers

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/08/29/23/40/UBvbR.Em.138.jpeg|221
    DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (76) talks with teammate Frank Alexander (90) late in Thursday's preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Panthers won 25-10.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/08/29/21/32/1k0She.Em.138.jpeg|258
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (76) makes a hit on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones (3) Thursday's preseason game at Bank of America Stadium. Hardy was called for roughing the passer on the play.

After Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy came up with an 11-sack season in 2012 – timed conveniently before the final year of his rookie contract – fans and media often described it as a breakout season.

But Hardy doesn’t think he’s done breaking out.

While the Panthers negotiate with Hardy’s agent on a long-term contract, the fourth-year end says his focus is on the field. The player, known through his nickname as the mythological sea creature Kraken, is ready for another monster year.

“Everybody’s talking about the contract year. I’m thinking more along the lines of breakout year,” Hardy said. “Show everybody how I can dominate and get back to the Ole Miss days, where it doesn’t really matter how many snaps I get. It doesn’t matter what position I’m in. I want to shut down the field.”

Hardy, a sixth-round pick in 2010, soon could cash in on last season’s success. The Panthers have been talking with Drew Rosenhaus, Hardy’s agent, about a contract extension, according to a league source.

Rosenhaus negotiated a six-year, $76 million extension for Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson in 2011. And while the free agent market for pass-rushing ends has cooled a bit in the two years since, Hardy could command a deal similar to Johnson’s.

“I’m going to keep playing. I’m going to keep working. I know that they’ve got to go back and forth for a while. Just try not to worry about it,” Hardy said of the contract talks.

“I feel like I’m in a great position,” he added. “I’ve got the best agent in the game, and I’ve got one of the best teams I’ve ever played for in my life. I hope it works out.”

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and the rest of the organization will consider how a big contract might affect Hardy, who has made a couple of questionable decisions – both involving motor vehicles – and missed out on a $50,000 workout bonus during the offseason.

Under his rookie contract, Hardy said he was required to attend 98 percent of the team’s voluntary and mandatory workouts or forfeit his bonus. Hardy said the days he missed, he was working out with his personal trainer in Charlotte.

“I lost 25 pounds this offseason, clearly I was working out,” said Hardy, listed at 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds. “I just wanted to get on my own, get away from the bulk that I put on last year and get into some of the speed and weight loss and endurance, which is what I did on my own.”

Hardy, who is set to make $1.3 million this year, was a pass-rushing force in 2012. He finished with 23 quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles, and combined with Johnson on 23.5 sacks, the second-highest total by a Panthers’ tandem.

Critics questioned where that production was during Hardy’s first two seasons when he combined for seven sacks. Off the field, Hardy was injured in a motorcycle wreck in Tennessee before the 2011 season, and raised eyebrows a year later by tweeting a picture of a Bentley speedometer registering more than 100 mph.

Hardy has embraced his bad-boy image, painting his face and wearing colored contacts for games and making no apologies for his seek-and-destroy approach toward quarterbacks.

Hardy was fined $40,750 last season for plays involving Robert Griffin III and Carson Palmer, the latter a hit that ended Palmer’s season with broken ribs and a bruised lung. On Pittsburgh’s first offensive play in Thursday night’s exhibition, Hardy was called for roughing the passer for a hit on Landry Jones that officials thought was too high.

“Hopefully we’ll get a chance to review that on tape and it won’t be that,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “But I really love what Greg Hardy’s given us through the four preseason games. He shows up every week and it was a lot of fun to watch him.”

Hardy chafes at any notion that he’s not a hard worker.

“A lot of my criticism was me being lazy. I’m not agreeing with it,” he said. “But I want to do everything in my power to show everyone that had something to say about me, that it is not true. I am who I am.”

Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn think he knows who Hardy is – a physical freak who pursues quarterbacks with the speed of a receiver. Hardy occasionally lined up at receiver at Mississippi, and has been used as a gunner on the Panthers’ punt team.

“I remember watching him at Ole Miss, being in the same conference as him. He’s a special athlete,” said Munnerlyn, who played at South Carolina. “You don’t catch guys that big and that strong that can run that fast, who’s just a loose cannon on the field. He feels like he can take down anybody. I’m glad he’s on my team. He makes my job a lot easier.”

Hardy also makes reporters’ jobs easier with his trash talking and colorful – sometimes outlandish – comments. At training camp last month Hardy said he was shooting for 50 sacks in 2013.

During an interview after Thursday’s exhibition, Hardy backed off his goal – if only slightly.

“I definitely want to set records. The 50 sacks was being a little facetious,” he said. “But why not, though? It’s possible. Somebody’s going to do it eventually, if it’s two thousand and twenty billion years later.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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