It was a bit of a surprise to hear head coach Ron Rivera say that DE Greg Hardy would be in the starting lineup as soon as he's healthy enough to participate. It struck some team observers as a premature move, but Hardy's DE spot is only one of a handful of positions where the Panthers are relying on players to fill roles for which they don't appear completely ready. Hardy showed great potential off the bench at times last season and recorded three sacks, but he has not played in preseason games as he recovers from injuries suffered in a July motorcycle crash. DEs Everette Brown and Eric Norwood are showing that they're best suited for situational roles, and Rivera is without any good, proven every-down option to play opposite Charles Johnson. Hardy, a sixth-round pick in 2010, has the size to hold up against the run and athleticism to get after the quarterback. He clearly stood out to Rivera, a former defensive coordinator, when the first-year head coach reviewed tape of last season.
Follow Dan Parr on Twitter