Hardy, Panthers block out distractions

Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy arrived at practice on Wednesday wearing headphones that protected him from the outside world, including those who lined the sidewalk waiting on him. He left practice flanked by running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, who kept the outside world from getting close enough to ask questions.

"He ain't talking today," Stewart told a throng of reporters trying to get the first public comments from Hardy since his May 13 arrest on domestic violence charges.

Then came the first public comment.

"Got to get to weights, guys," said Hardy, looking over his shoulder with a smile.

That was it.

On a day when right tackle Byron Bell was discussing his transition from right to left tackle and quarterback Cam Newton was throwing passes -- at least for public viewing -- for the first time since undergoing ankle surgery were significant topics, the first player most reporters approached was Hardy.

Not that anybody expected the 2013 Pro Bowl selection to talk. But on the chance he might, questions had to be asked.

Interesting, though, the Panthers didn't seem to be questioning Hardy at all. From head coach Ron Rivera to fellow end Charles Johnson to Bell, they were focused on Hardy the football player.

If the charges Hardy faces from the incident with ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder were a distraction, you couldn't tell it by him or his teammates.

"Not at all," Bell said. "I'm at left tackle the first play and he's flying out the box, so that's not interfering with him. For the most part, as far as I'm concerned, it ain't bothering him, it ain't bothering the team.

"He's coming out here flying around. He looks like [the old] Hardy, so the 50 sacks might come back up again. He'll be ready to go, and I believe that."

Bell was referring to Hardy's prediction last summer that he would have 50 sacks, more than doubling the NFL single-season record. He didn't get close, but he tied the team's single-season record with 15.

That was good enough to earn Hardy the franchise tag, which guaranteed him $13.1 million this season. He's getting $1.3 million of that in advance to guarantee his presence in all of the voluntary and non-voluntary offseason workouts as Wednesday's was.

So it came as no surprise that Hardy was in attendance and focused on the field -- not what's happening off it.

"Greg's looked really good," Rivera said. "It's tough, because we're not in pads, and so when he comes off the ball the tackles can't really strike him the way you normally would in pads. So the advantage goes to him right now. He looked very quick, very athletic, doing some really good things."

And these are some of the reasons the Panthers were disappointed with Hardy's arrest, as Carolina understands what he means to the defense that ranked second in the NFL last season.

"Whatever happened, it happened," said Bell, who at one point got into a small exchange with Hardy during practice. "It's over now and in the past. He just wants to play football and so do I."

Over is over-simplifying things. Hardy is scheduled for court on June 27. He still faces sanctions from the court if found guilty, which his attorney contends he's not, and also potential sanctions from the NFL and/or Panthers.

But for now, it's all about football for him and his teammates. They've apparently rallied around him, just as Stewart and Williams did on this day.

That's what players and teams typically do in the storm of controversy. They keep the outside world from being a distraction for the team the way Johnson told Hardy to keep it from being a distraction to him.

"Come to work," Johnson said. "It's what we do. We work and let our work talk for itself."