Hardy wins first award, but won't be his last

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Greg Hardy's goal during this bye weekend for the Carolina Panthers is to avoid trouble.

The goal for every team that faces the Panthers the rest of the season should be to avoid the fourth-year defensive end out of Ole Miss.

Hardy was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday after recording eight tackles, three sacks, three quarterback hurries and three tackles for loss in Sunday's 38-0 dismantling of the New York Giants.

It was the first award of any kind for Hardy since he arrived in the NFL as a sixth-round pick in 2010.

You get the feeling there will be more.

"I'm trying to get some Pro Bowls, All-Pros and whatnot," Hardy said. "I've got to keep my head down, keep grinding."

It's that lunch-pail mentality that has gotten Hardy, self-dubbed, "The Kraken," this far. It is the same mentality that will help him get to the next level -- if he's not already there.

Remember his preseason goal of 50 sacks after last season's breakout year in which he had 11?

"Why shoot low, right? If I'm going to shoot at it, I'm going to shoot at it with a .50 caliber," Hardy said at the time. "I'm going to shoot at a little bird with a .50-caliber bullet. That's the goal for this year -- 50 sacks. That's where I'm at."

That, of course, would more than double Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5. So most took Hardy's prediction for what it was.

"Well, I'm not going to quote like he did and say 50, but he's got a high ceiling," coach Ron Rivera said. "He's just beginning to scratch the surface."

Sunday was just a sample, and not just because of the sacks.

The Panthers grade more on production than tackles and sacks. They grade on how many times a player impacts a play. For a defensive lineman, a good grade is one out of every four to seven plays.

Hardy graded out at one out of every 2.3.

"It was a pretty good number," Rivera said with a smile. "It really was."

Hardy's penetration and ability to play end and tackle makes a questionable secondary look good, and makes a defensive coordinator look good, too.

"There's a lot of people pulling for him because of what he means to our defense,'' Rivera said.

The Panthers began talking to Hardy's representatives before the season about extending his deal, which expires after this season. It would be to Carolina's benefit to get it done for many reasons, but more importantly, to solidify the defensive front for many years to come.

Hardy definitely understands the value of having tackles Star Lotulelei, and Dwan Edwards, as well as end Charles Johnson, on his side. Johnson and Lotulelei each contributed to Carolina's seven sacks against the Giants, as did backup tackle Kawann Short with Edwards inactive with a thigh injury.

"It's crazy how many guys we have who can just pass rush and get sacks," Hardy said. "It's hard not to get player of the week when you've got guys swarming around and the quarterback is on the run all day."