CHARLOTTE — News travels fast in the information age, but not fast enough to reach Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy – at least not during a day filled with meetings, film sessions and practice.
Asked about Saints coach Sean Payton’s decision to start rookie left tackle Terron Armstead – announced Wednesday morning – against the Panthers, Hardy asked, “What happened to the last guy?”
The last guy is Charles Brown, who was benched midway through the Saints’ loss at St. Louis last weekend when he couldn’t block Rams defensive end Robert Quinn. Right tackle Zach Strief replaced Brown and finished the Rams’ game on the left side.
Despite a Week 16 matchup with Carolina that has huge implications for the NFC South and the NFC playoff picture, Payton decided it was time to give Armstead, a third-round pick, a shot.
“I think mainly it was just a gut coming off the game we just played and kind of factoring in a culmination of work,” Payton said Wednesday afternoon during a conference call.
Hardy, who will be lined up against Armstead much of the game, said he’d never heard of him – not surprising given that Armstead has not taken an offensive snap all season.
But Hardy had heard of Armstead’s alma mater – Division II Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which is less than three hours from Hardy’s Memphis hometown.
Others in the Panthers’ organization were more familiar with Armstead.
“That’s the guy that blew up the combine, right?” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He put up big numbers. I think he ran a fast 40 and everything. He’s probably a pretty good athlete.”
The 6-foot-5, 304-pound Armstead ran the 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds at the combine, the fastest time for a lineman since at least 2006.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the team liked Armstead and interviewed him before the draft.
“We think the young man’s got a chance,” Rivera said. “We think he’s a good football player.”
This is the second time Hardy will face a tackle making his first career start. Hardy was held without a sack in a 22-6 loss at Arizona in Week 5 by Bradley Sowell, Hardy’s teammate for three years at Ole Miss.
Rivera said the Panthers rounded up video of Armstead from preseason games and would pull out his college films for their defensive linemen to study.
But Hardy said it would be a feeling-out process Sunday.
“Even if I watched 1,000 clips of film on him and I started beating him, he’s going to change it,” Hardy said. “You can’t keep doing the same thing. If I keep getting beat, I’m not going to keep rushing the same way.
“It’s just one of those things where whoever comes out and picks it up first and gets on their grind is going to win. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to be me.”
The Panthers failed to get any pressure on quarterback Drew Brees in the Saints’ 31-13 win in New Orleans on Dec. 8. They managed two sacks as Brees shredded the secondary for 313 yards and four touchdowns.
Hardy finished with two tackles, no sacks and no pressures.
“I feel like I played my heart out,” Hardy said. “If (Brees) is throwing the ball, I can’t do nothing about it but rush faster. I am going to figure out how to rush faster. But I’m not going to discredit my game and the way I played.”
Rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said it’s critical the Panthers generate an interior rush against Brees, as well.
“We watched a lot of film, he loves to step up,” Lotulelei said. “If we take away his chance to step up, our defensive ends who always get that outside pressure will have a lot better chance.”
Hardy, a sixth-round pick in 2010, noted Armstead was drafted higher than he was.
And while Payton indicated the Saints would give Armstead some blocking help Sunday, Lotulelei likes Hardy’s chances.
“He’s going to get a rookie against him that’s the first start of his career,” Lotulelei said. “I think Greg will do a great job of taking advantage of it. I’ll take Greg over anybody every day.”
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