Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy thought he should have died after wrecking his motorcycle on I-40 a few weeks ago outside of Knoxville, TN.
"It could have been a life-ending deal," Hardy said after practice on Sunday. "It wasn't my fault, and I was wearing the right equipment, so that's one of those things that tells you you've got to look out for life, appreciate it while it's here and make the most of it."
A few weeks later Hardy is back on the practice field and in the mix to start.
"It was good to see him on the field," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said after practice on Sunday.
"I didn't recognize him. I was so used to seeing him in street clothes. To see him in pads was outstanding. He had a good day; he intermingled with the groups. So he got an opportunity to get out there with the first bunch and take a couple of snaps. He did some real nice things on the sideline when he was doing the individual drills, so we were excited to have him back on the football field."
According to Rivera, Hardy, the 175th pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, will be starting at defensive end for the Carolina Panthers.
"He's an every-down defensive end for us," Rivera said. "He'll work himself back into shape, and when he's ready to go he'll be one of our starting defensive ends."
"Those are just words. I've got to play and earn the spot," Hardy said of Rivera's praise. "There was a lot of anticipation today, just hoping I've still got it. I was little afraid to get out on the line and see if it's still there and see what improvements I've got to make, but it felt really good."
Hardy flashed a great deal of promise last season at defensive end, and although he didn't start a game, it was clear that the future would be bright for the youngster out of Ole Miss.
As a rookie, Hardy had 29 tackles, three sacks, nine QB pressures, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed. He was a bright spot on a team that went 2-14 and had just allowed arguably the best player in franchise history—defensive end Julius Peppers—sign with Chicago.
That's heavy praise in Carolina, where Peppers was a household name for nearly a decade. Hardy reminds many observers of Peppers due to his size and athleticism. At 6' 4", 244 lbs, he's not far off of Peppers' mesaurables, but it's his speed and strength that remind folks of the former Panthers captain.
Hardy will line up across the line from defensive end Charles Johnson—Carolina's highest-paid player—who recently received a six-year, $72 million contract. As Johnson receives more attention from the opposing team's offense, it will free up the athletic Hardy to make more plays.
What Panthers fan can't get excited about that?