“I saw a lot of heart, and that’s the biggest thing for me,” Hardy said. “Guys that want to be there. Guys that want to play. And guys that want to fight. That’s what football is about: hard-nosed, head-to-head combat. I’m looking forward to going out there.”
Hardy will be out there Sunday against the New England Patriots, barring any setbacks in practice during the week. The Cowboys signed Hardy because he was the best pass-rusher available in free agency. Last January, their 2014 season ended because they were unable to get after a gimpy Aaron Rodgers in their divisional-round loss to the Green Bay Packers.
So far this season, they have six sacks, with three of them coming last week against the New Orleans Saints.
“Orchestration,” Hardy said. “I’m looking forward to orchestrating all of it and becoming a part of it and making it more harmonious.”
Linebacker Anthony Hitchens leads the Cowboys with two sacks. Linebacker Sean Lee has one. Defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford, Jack Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence have one apiece (the Crawfords are not related).
Hardy sidestepped any and all questions Tuesday about the incident involving a former girlfriend that led to his suspension, preferring to talk about football. Ultimately, domestic violence charges against Hardy were dismissed in February because his accuser wouldn't testify in a jury trial amid reports of a civil settlement.
“I’m thankful for another day to get sacks, man,” Hardy said. “Any day I can wake up and rush the quarterback is an awesome day.”
The Cowboys need Hardy to get sacks. A lot of them. And when Randy Gregory returns from a high ankle sprain after the Oct. 11 bye week, the Cowboys can finally put together the front four they envisioned in training camp, with Hardy and Tyrone Crawford at tackle and Lawrence and Gregory at end in their nickel defense.
Hardy has 27 sacks in his last 32 regular-season games. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2013. The Cowboys have not had a pass-rusher other teams feared since DeMarcus Ware was let go after the 2013 season.
Like WR Dez Bryant for the offense, the opposition will take note of where Hardy lines up and give him extra attention. The extra attention on Hardy should mean a simpler path to the quarterback for others.
“He’s good at what he does,” Tyrone Crawford said.
The last time Hardy played against the Patriots, he had a 4-yard sack of QB Tom Brady. So far this season, Brady has been sacked six times.
How does Hardy, in his Cowboys debut, view going against Brady?
“The same way I did last time I saw him,” Hardy said. “Hopefully on the ground.”
During the offseason program, teammates raved about Hardy’s work ethic. In training camp they lauded his practice habits. On Tuesday they talked about his energy.
“In walk-throughs, he’s going hard and he’s watching his keys and making sure he’s playing the way he wants to in the game,” Tyrone Crawford said. “I don’t know if I want to say he’s going game speed, but he’s going at a good speed in the walk-throughs. He’s just around here with high spirits and just trying to bring everybody up. High energy.”
Hardy is signed only through this season. Per terms of the contract, the Cowboys cannot use the franchise or transition tag on him after the season.
If he performs the way he did with the Carolina Panthers, he could command a big price on the open market provided teams are no longer scared of the off-field issues.
But he doesn’t sound like somebody who wants his Cowboys career to last 12 games.
“I hope,” Hardy said, “it lasts 12 years.”