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Panthers DE Hardy has lofty sack goal

The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Starting at the top with owner Jerry Richardson, the Carolina Panthers have traditionally been a conservative, non-flashy organization. The club's front-office staff, coaches and players have rarely tried to draw attention, even though they make a living in a world that often rewards those that do.

So Greg Hardy is different around these parts. The fourth-year defensive end has been ramping up his self-marketing efforts since early in his 2012 breakout season. He has embraced "Kraken" -- a fictional giant sea monster -- as a nickname, and on the first day of Carolina's minicamp this week, he revealed a rather large sack-total goal for the upcoming season.

"Fifty. Why shoot low, right? If I'm going to shoot at it, I'm going to shoot at it with a 50 caliber. I'm going to shoot at a little bird with a 50-caliber bullet," Hardy said without a hint of intended humor. "That's the goal for this year, 50 sacks, that's where I'm at. That's the goal, 50. You heard it first."

Considering Hardy smashed a career-high with 11 sacks last year, and the NFL's record for sacks in a season is Michael Strahan's 22.5 for the New York Giants in 2001, 50 would be a pretty big story. But as unlikely as that goal may be, it's hard to knock Hardy for his brashness.

Before his emergence last season, the Carolina defense had severely lacked a guy with such an attitude. The fiery leader was supposed to be Jon Beason, but the linebacker has played in just five of 32 games during the past two years. His heir apparent at middle linebacker, 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly, is a heck of a player but isn't very vocal. Charles Johnson is one of the more underrated defensive ends in the game, but he's not much of a rah-rah guy, either.

That has opened the door for Hardy to emerge as the loudest voice of what could be a solid defense. While the secondary won't scare many opposing offenses, Carolina's talented front seven could help mask the defensive backfield's deficiencies.

On the line, Hardy will again bookend Johnson on the outside -- a combination that totaled 33.5 sacks last season. And in April, the Panthers spent their first two draft picks on defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.

"Our D-line is about getting money and not like you all are thinking. Just everybody winning," Hardy said. "If the tackles are getting it, that means they've got to block them now, and while they're blocking them, I'm sneaking in the backdoor and taking everything. It's the type of situation where we want everybody to win -- the young guys, the new guys, the old guys."

While Hardy may not have been speaking specifically about money in that instance, he did face some questions about his contract. After missing four of the Panthers' 10 OTAs the past month, some wondered whether he was making a statement about his current deal -- his rookie contract expires after next season. But Hardy said his absence was due to personal family matters, and he also promised to show up at training camp "bright and early, same as always."

That should ease the concerns of Panthers fans who are quickly falling for their outspoken end. A kraken may be fictional, but the tales this Kraken is telling are among the most entertaining this fan base has seen in a while.

"We don't eat unless the fans buy the tickets," Hardy said. "Sundays are my ice cream, so I want to give the fans a little something back and make sure everybody is excited about the game."
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