I spent much of Thursday morning writing our Camp Confidential segment on the Carolina Panthers. It will pop up on the NFC South blog a bit later this afternoon.
This feature will involve a mention of rookie defensive end Greg Hardy. But he deserves more than a quick mention because he was creating quite a buzz around camp when I visited Wofford College earlier this week.
A sixth-round pick out of Mississippi, Hardy isn’t playing like a sixth-round pick. Coaches, players and the front office are noticing. In fact, when I sat down with linebacker Jon Beason for an interview for Camp Confidential and some other stuff for down the road, he brought up Hardy without any prompting at all.
Beason was talking in general terms about how he’s seeing some promise from young players on Carolina’s defensive line. All of the sudden, Beason paused and got very specific.
“Hardy, for instance,’’ Beason said. “He’s a guy who can do everything. He’s strong at the point of attack. Great against the run and great against the pass. He’s got a motor and he’s very fast. I’ve talked to him and said, “Look, I don’t care what happened at Ole Miss or anything in the past. Forget about it, because you can write your own ticket right now’’ and I’m challenging him to get out there and get better because he’s got a chance to be a special player.’’
All right, let’s put some context on this. Beason is a guy I know fairly well and he’s the clear leader of Carolina’s defense, maybe even of the entire franchise. I respect his football knowledge tremendously. But I should tell you Beason is an optimist and I tried to keep his thoughts on Hardy in perspective until I talked to someone else.
That’s when I turned to John Fox. Anyone that’s followed the Panthers for most of the last decade knows that Fox, although almost always cordial, isn’t the greatest quote in the world. It’s rare for him to really heap praise on players, he’s never going to publicly criticize them and, actually, it isn’t all that often that Fox says much of anything.
That’s why his answer surprised me so much when I asked him about Hardy.
“I’ve liked everything I’ve seen,’’ Fox said. “He’s got the size. He’s got first-round ability. It’s still early, but everything I’ve seen has been impressive from his work ethic to his effort to his skill set.’’
It didn’t stop there. Without any further prompting, Fox went on and mentioned Hardy in a comparison, of sorts, to former Carolina end Julius Peppers.
“I don’t like over-praising people, but I really like what I’ve seen,’’ Fox said. “He’s probably more Pep-like than anybody else we’ve got. Time will tell.’’
Now, before Fox reads this, starts thinking he gave the rest of the league a competitive edge with his early report on Hardy and never again utters a decent quote, let’s add a little more context. By no means was Fox saying Hardy is ready to be the second coming of Peppers. He simply was saying Hardy has the most pure athletic ability of any of Carolina’s defensive ends. It remains to be seen if that will translate into success on the field.
Also, I thought Fox had another strong quote when he was talking about how the Panthers will have to use a collection of players to make up for the loss of Peppers.
“Julius Peppers, love him or hate him, you ain’t replacing him,’’ Fox said. “He was the second player taken in the draft and he signed a huge contract to go to the Bears. That doesn’t happen to bad football players. We’re not going to replace him as an individual talent.’’