CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Panthers are hoping flamboyant defensive end Greg Hardy can get healthy before Sunday and build on the momentum he helped create before the bye week.
Hardy, the NFC’s defensive Player of the Week in week three, has missed the last two days of practice with an illness. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he expects Hardy will return to practice Friday and make the trip to Arizona to face the Cardinals on Sunday.
“He did see the doctor. Good report,” Rivera said. “They just want him to get a little bit of rest and I do expect him back (Friday) morning. So I do look forward to seeing Greg.”
Carson Palmer probably doesn’t.
The Cardinals quarterback knows firsthand the pain Hardy is capable of inflicting on the football field when he takes on the game day persona of “the Kraken,” a mythical sea creature.
While playing for the Oakland Raiders last December, Palmer set up outside the pocket to throw a pass against the Panthers when he took a vicious shot from Hardy that ended his day — and his season. Palmer suffered cracked ribs and a bruised lung on a hit he said he’ll never forget.
Hardy was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness, but Palmer said this week that officials got the call wrong.
“He got me good,” Palmer said. “(But) I gave him an opportunity to get me, and I don’t think it should have been flagged. I think those kinds of hits now, just because they look pretty gruesome, get flagged. But it was a legal hit, and my own fault for not getting rid of the football.”
Palmer said all he remembers from the hit is watching the replay on the stadium scoreboard as he lay on the ground in agony.
“It looked good for him, bad for me,” Palmer said.
The normally vocal Hardy — who paints his face and “turns into a whole different person on game day” according to Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly — was unavailable for interviews this week because of his illness.
Palmer said Hardy reminds him of Julius Peppers, who played eight seasons for the Panthers before joining the Chicago Bears in 2009.
“He’s very quick, very powerful,” Palmer said of 6-foot-4, 276-pound Hardy. “I actually saw him on tape running down and almost catching (Bills running back) C.J. Spiller on a long run. He was running pretty much stride-for-stride with him downfield. With that combination of athleticism, size and speed, that’s the way Julius Peppers looked when he was playing in Carolina.”
It’s pretty clear Hardy is playing himself into a big contract after the season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Hardy had 11 sacks in a breakout season a year ago and continues to step up his play this year, not only as a pass rusher but as a run defender.
Hardy has shown he can do it all.
Against the Giants, he single handedly set the tone in Carolina’s 38-0 victory by stuffing the run early and sacking Eli Manning three times in the first half. He finished with eight tackles.
“He played lights out,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “That whole front had I think had six sacks in the first fifteen plays or more? It was extremely impressive — and a little bit scary.”
The outspoken Hardy said before the season his goal was to record 50 sacks this year.
Hardy will have a chance to improve on his sack total this Sunday when he’s lined up against Cardinals left tackle Bradley Sowell, a second-year undrafted rookie from Mississippi. Sowell will make his first NFL start after the Cardinals traded veteran tackle Levi Brown to Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
“He was my college teammate for three years,” Sowell said of Hardy. “I’ve been trying to text him. I said ‘Let me keep my job for at least one week.””
AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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