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Sunday, June 17, 2012

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s Greg Hardy

There’s always been that feeling, since the earlier scouting days on Greg Hardy, what he could be if he focused. 

That’s not to say he’s not dedicated, or hard working, but he’s not a meathead personality.  He’s complex.  He earned being called Baby Pep because of his superhuman abilities at times, and with that came times where he was average.   Undoubtedly athletic, and talented, most edge rushers this good don’t fall to the Panthers in the 6th round.  There aren’t character concerns, either – he’s not a druggy, he doesn’t have a Cromartie-like array of children scattered across the nation.  I don’t have a good diagnosis for what Hardy was “missing”, other than a senior season that was lackluster, a foot injury, and maybe a little more motor.  

But there was definitely that feeling, that you would probably love what you saw if there was a little more dedication.  Last offseason was bizarre for all NFL players, and Hardy made sure to stand out for Carolina – a motorcycle accident left him unable to practice most of camp, and likely an unfocused offseason of workout by himself before that.  He came in at his normal weight, but might not have gotten that offseason jumpoff that 2nd year kids get in their first full year of working out at the pro level.

Well, he got that this year, apparently.  More than anyone.  The 6’4 Hardy isn’t 276 anymore- he’s 299.  Yikes.  

But fans suddenly getting visions of fat kids of the past – Sean Gilbert’s press conference demanding lunch, Jeff Otah’s entire career, or they saw me at the store recently – can rest a little easier.  Hardy’s addition was told to be almost all muscle, and now rests at 14% body fat, which is ridiculous for a 300 lb man.   The concern would remain whether that’s too heavy, regardless of whether it’s muscle. 

Will he lose athleticism?  The team says no, stating he’s as fast as he was.  But what about body lean – that push that allows a DE to get into the OT’s body and bend sideways for leverage without losing quickness?  That’s harder to say.  And, just physically, it’s tougher to move when you’re top heavy in the trenches.

Hardy’s never been Julius Peppers.  That was never fair to put on him.  Not even Charles Johnson had to deal with that. I definitely wonder what could’ve happened if Peppers, whose game was always weaker when a guy was locked onto him, would’ve shown up one offseason 20 lbs worth of muscle heavier.  There’s always been criticism of Jordan Gross not becoming a dominant player because of his weight room habits (I honestly don’t know at this point, but as a younger player he didn’t impress me as someone who would easily gain additional muscle), but none of Peppers. 
So, is it a good sign? 

Hardy’s concerns from last year were a high snap count, a late season collapse (both from high snaps, and first season as a starter/the college bubble, and so on), and that he wasn’t able to take on the additional pressure when Charles Johnson wasn’t there.   The weight helps a lot of that – being in better shape definitely helps.  Whether he’ll wear down late because of the additional weight is harder to say.

At that weight, as well, the natural assumption is that he’ll rush inside more.  Certainly, while either front Carolina uses will be a one-gap, it does endear Hardy to play the 5-technique 3-4 more when Carolina moves to it, and he’d likely rush inside more (depending on Frank Alexander’s progress). 
They moved Johnson around a fair bit, but they do still somewhat consider him the right end, and Hardy the left – odd, since Johnson’s a fantastic run defender and had the weight, but less odd if you consider it’s just harder to be a dominant left end (the tight end is there, and most teams won’t put a TE on a right end for a doubleteam).  So I guess they find Hardy as the left end, and he gained weight accordingly.   But Carolina’s in an odd spot, running a one-gap defense with weakness inside, and for a defense used to employing smaller, quicker ends they’re currently employing a 275 lb guy at right end, and 300 at left.

Coincidentally, Hardy’s also PFF’s Secret Superstar:
This more sufficiently diagnoses Hardy’s up and down year, and is a fantastic (and timely) read. I’ve quoted some of those stats (and his late-season slide) many times, but this new article ties it all together well.  You’ll note Hardy had as many pressures as Johnson, though Johnson played hurt late in the year (and then not at all).  It’s amazing that Carolina did have a defensive resurgence late in the year, with modest production from Johnson, a slide from Hardy, and missing their best two LB and top three DT.  That, of course, takes away the New Orleans game as well (a defensive disaster), but there’s some hope to be had on defense.
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