IRVING, Texas– Out of football for the last four weeks, and without any regular-season game action since Week 1 of 2014, Greg Hardy is back.
The Cowboys' defensive end not only served his four-game suspension from the NFL, but met with the media for the first time since he signed with the club back in March.
To say Hardy seems ready to go would be an understatement. Full of energy, wit, personality and enthusiasm, the defensive end got straight to the point with his first question, which centered on the difficulty of being out for so long.
"It's hard to get sacks when you're not on the football field," Hardy said Tuesday in the Cowboys' locker room at Valley Ranch. "That's my main purpose in football, to get back there and get sacks and make a difference on the team. And I wasn't able to do that. It was a process mentally for myself."
Hardy originally received a 10-game suspension from the NFL, stemming from his domestic abuse charges in 2014 that were later dropped. The suspension was reduced down to four games, making him eligible to return on Monday. The Cowboys also get Rolando McClain back as well after the linebacker served a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. But unlike Hardy, McClain was allowed to be in the building and attend meetings the last month.
When asked how long Hardy expects it to take for him to return to his Pro Bowl self, the pass-rusher was quick to respond.
"I hope not long. I hope I come out guns blazin'. I'm full of excitement and full of juice," Hardy said. "I'm ready to go. I have what they call fresh legs. I'm really excited to get out there on that grass or turf and see what they can do."
Since he hasn't met with the media since he signed, Hardy was asked about his decision to join the Cowboys, who signed him to an incentive-based contract that will pay him close to $550,000 for each game he plays this year.
"Great organization. It's a legendary program throughout the NFL," Hardy said of the Cowboys. "I just felt immense care when I came here, especially speaking to Mr. Jones and all of the (Jones family) and the coaches. Pretty much everyone just took me in and gave me a shot. That's really all I need. And I appreciate it."
While he was asked about off-field distractions, Hardy said it's not hard to focus on his job once he gets back on the field.
"Man, once you put the helmet on, you really only have thoughts of winning," he said. "It's a contagious kind of thing, it's a Cowboys kind of thing. I feel like when I get around these guys, it's not really about anything but winning and getting sacks and doing my job. And I'm really good at that."
In 2013, he made the Pro Bowl with a career-best 15 sacks. That came after an 11-sack season in 2012 for the Panthers.
But by playing just one game in 2014, Hardy now must do his best to get back to form. He spent all offseason with the Cowboys in the OTAs and minicamp, and then all of training camp in Oxnard, Calif. Hardy also played in three preseason games before the suspension began at the start of the regular season.
From there, he said he did his best to stay in shape, conditioning-wise, and did it from a variety of locations, including some in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, although he was not allowed to be in the building at Valley Ranch for the last four weeks.
"A little bit of everywhere," Hardy said. "Working out a couple of times a day, getting some running in, trying to stay off those knees. Coming back in Week 5 and just being a head above everybody and mostly just keeping and maintaining the strength and the speed and the stamina that I built up over camp."
While he adds plenty of experience and talent to the defense, Hardy somewhat dismissed the notion that he adds leadership as well, especially since he hasn't played a snap with the team just yet.
"It's not something I'm used to doing on this level," Hardy said. "And I don't even call myself a leader. I'm just another guy out here trying to push through and work hard, just like these other guys who are giving 110 percent. I will say that I'm evolving. It comes from the guys around me. I feel like I'm listening more. I'm taking more advice from the leadership and the head guys and the head coach and even the administration. Just the way I take the advice and the way I apply it, that's what's changed."
As for having any regrets, Hardy said it comes back to his team.
"I'm sorry I couldn't be here for my teammates," he said. "The worst feeling in the world is not being there for somebody you care about or somebody that needs you. That's what we need, a full team, and everybody pulling their load. And that's what I'm going to do when I come back."
Nick Eatman is the author of the recently published ****If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys***, a collection of stories from the Cowboys' locker room, sideline and press box, with a foreword written by Darren Woodson.*