SPARTANBURG, S.C. – When asked if the Panthers defense can exceed its strong showing from a year ago, defensive end Greg Hardy didn't hesitate.
"We want to set a standard," Hardy said. "We want to race against ourselves to be better than we were last year. We're going to put that behind us and start new."
Hardy also would like to put his recent past off the field behind him and start new.
Addressing the media Sunday for the first time since being charged and later found guilty by a judge for communicating threats and assaulting a female, Hardy kept the conversation focused on football as he awaits his opportunity for a jury trial.
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Panthers director of communications Charlie Dayton told reporters in advance of Hardy's press conference that Hardy couldn't answer questions related to his legal situation. Hardy declined comment on numerous questions along those lines, only saying, "I hate that I have distracted my team, but other than that I can't really answer any questions." When it came to on-the-field matters, Hardy couldn't be more excited coming off a 15-sack season in which the Panthers ranked first in the NFL with 60 sacks and second in total defense.
"There are no boundaries to what we can do this year. Limitations aren't really my thing," Hardy said. "We're just going to keep finding areas to get better at and build on them.
"Everyone is starting new. They're shooting for what we were doing last year, so we've got to step our game up and create another level to surpass."
After the four-year contract that Hardy signed as a rookie expired following last season, the Panthers opted to place the franchise tag on him for the 2014 season. The tag will expire after the upcoming season, leaving Hardy's long-term future in Carolina in doubt.
Hardy left no doubt about what he hopes his future holds.
"It's awesome," Hardy said of the Panthers' decision to tag him this offseason. "I get to stay another year, hang out with my guys and play some football. Can never really be mad at that, right?
"I love this place. It's a great atmosphere. I love the ownership, love my teammates. I've had a great five years here."
Hardy was asked if he wanted to make any predictions after memorably throwing out 50 sacks as his goal at training camp last year.
"I like that number still, feel like it was a good, solid whole number," Hardy said. "I'm going to shoot for it again. I'm going to say this time that I'm going to 'shoot for it' so everybody knows I didn't say I was going to get it.
"I get up in the morning, wash my hands and get to work. That's what we have to do to be excellent, to be better than everyone else."