SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Throughout his first two seasons in the NFL, Panthers defensive end
This season, Hardy arrived at training camp more determined than ever to shorten that description to "potent."
"I've changed my mentality," Hardy said. "I attacked this offseason instead of just going with the flow. I feel like I needed to become a better player, and that's what I've done.
"I feel great. I feel like I'm in a better mental state of mind. I'm out here to work."
Hardy has added some muscle – up nearly 20 pounds to just shy of 300 – and he's lost some hair, cutting off his dreadlocks "to show everybody that I'm serious about coming with my work hat on."
He also arrived at camp without a motorcycle helmet in sight. This time last year, Hardy was slowed by injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident on the trip from his native Tennessee to camp.
"He's getting better and better with each snap," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "He came in in great shape. He didn't ride his motorcycle this year, which was huge for us.
"He's done a great job. We're very excited about him."
The Panthers potentially got a steal in the 2010 NFL Draft when they selected Hardy in the sixth round out of Mississippi. Injuries cut each of his final two college seasons short, but he still racked up 26.5 sacks over his career.
As a rookie reserve, the athleticism that allowed him to catch three touchdown passes in college was on display immediately. In Week 1, he blocked a New York Giants punt out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
Hardy played in 15 games as a rookie and produced three sacks, and last season he took over as a starter opposite
"There were a lot of ‘what-ifs' with our defense, but we have a responsibility to our offense to get out and show what this defense is capable of," Hardy said. "We've got a lot of talent and a lot speed. We're going to show it this year."
Hardy recorded just one sack over the last 11 games of the season. He wants to improve those numbers but doesn't want to get caught up in them. He led the team with 17 quarterback hurries in 2011 and also set the pace in passes defensed with 11 – a true testament to his athleticism.
Now, a more aerodynamic version of Hardy is working toward becoming an even more dynamic performer.
"If you keep coming, the sacks will come," he said. "My thing is that I want to be a complete player. I've had a good amount of tackles and pass deflections. I want to contribute, and I feel like I can make every kind of play.
"I want to mess everything up for the offense. I feel like I should be everywhere."