CHARLOTTE – A lot has is being made of the fact that the Panthers are facing the New Orleans Saints for the second time in three weeks.
But with the NFC South title hanging in the balance, defensive end Greg Hardy has a new challenge against the same team.
Saints head coach Sean Payton announced on Wednesday that rookie left tackle Terron Armstead – who has yet to take an offensive snap – will get his first NFL start this week in place of Charles Brown. Brown was replaced by right tackle Zach Strief midway through the Saints' loss to the St. Louis Rams.
"It was just a gut (feeling) coming off the game we just played," Payton said of the decision in a conference call.
Armstead set a record for offensive linemen when he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and was the Saints' third-round draft choice out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
"He's a guy who is extremely talented," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in a conference call. "We've got a ton of confidence in him. This is his opportunity."
Head coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers were interested in Armstead during the pre-draft process.
"He's somebody that we did interview and talk to; somebody that we did like," said Rivera, adding that the coaching staff will collect tape from Armstead's college career and the preseason. "We think the young man's got a chance. We think he's a good football player."
Hardy – coming off one sack and four quarterback hits against the New York Jets – admitted he doesn't know much about Armstead, despite the gaudy draft results.
"Jeez, he got drafted higher than I did. He's got a good game I guess. I love competition. It'll be exciting," Hardy said.
"(I'll prepare the) same way I prepare for everybody else. I watch as much film as I need to, and then I just work on my fundamentals. He's got to block me with his hands and his feet."
Right guard Nate Chandler can relate to the challenge that lies ahead for Armstead.
Chandler, who switched from the defensive line to offensive line prior to the season, was thrust into his first start in Week 10 against at the San Francisco 49ers.
"It's probably tough for him. I wasn't thinking about who I was going up against, I just went out there and played," Chandler recalled. "I can't tell you what's going through his head. He's probably got a lot of thoughts. He's probably thinking he's got to play his best game."
Hardy and the Panthers defensive line is intent on putting more pressure on Brees on their home field this time around. And Hardy doesn't care who he has to go through to get there.
"What we did (the first time) didn't work," Hardy said. "We have to get to him. We just have to stay persistent, stay steadfast in our rush."