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Some Panthers players still consider Greg Hardy a friend despite issues

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers are preparing to face former teammate Greg Hardy on Thanksgiving Day at Dallas, but if some had their way, the Pro Bowl defensive end still would be a teammate.

Outside linebacker Thomas Davis was among several players who lobbied management to re-sign Hardy after domestic violence charges against ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder were dropped in February.

"Greg Hardy is a guy that you flat-out want on your football team," Davis said Tuesday. "He's a guy that's a game-changer. He can go out and totally wreck a game plan if you allow him to. Of course we went and spoke up for him, trying to get him back.

"But a few details came out with this whole situation. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get him back. Now he's a part of the Dallas Cowboys. Guess who we play this week?"

Fullback Mike Tolbert still calls Hardy his friend and texted with him as recently as this week.

"He's always been there for me when I've needed something," Tolbert said. "In the Panthers' locker room, it's more than just football. We're there for each other on and off the field. When somebody is going through something, we're there with him."

Tolbert said his opinion of Hardy didn't change when pictures of Holder recently were published. The photographs showed Holder with abrasions, welts, bruises and cuts on her shoulders, face, neck, arms, back and foot.

"Just because somebody goes through something you can't drop them by the wayside and say I'm not going to talk to them," Tolbert said. "If Jonathan [Stewart]goes through something, I'm not going to say he's not my friend no more because he made a bad decision. Everybody makes mistakes."

Davis agreed.

"We all knew of the situation," he said. "We knew what was said to have happened. It's one of those situations where you really still, to this point, it's still Greg's word against hers."

Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards considered Hardy a good friend and a good teammate with a quirky personality for two-plus seasons.

Edwards, who is married with two daughters, hasn't looked at Hardy the same way since the pictures were released.

"It's kind of like the Ray Rice thing," he told ESPN.com, referring to the former Baltimore Ravens running back who has been out of football since a video was released last year of him punching his then-fiance and now wife.

"It's not really real until you see the pictures. You can kind of imagine it, but until you see the pictures you don't know exactly what went on. When you see the pictures it kind of becomes a little more real."

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said to this day he still hasn't seen the pictures. When asked Monday about Hardy, he said, "He did some good things for us as a football player."

Rivera has kept the focus on Hardy to what he did as a player for Carolina and what he is doing for Dallas now. He called him an "explosive, disruptive player" that his offense will have to handle.

Rivera did not go into detail when asked how he dealt with issues -- such as tardiness to meetings, saying outlandish things -- which Dallas has dealt with since signing Hardy to a one-year deal.

"For the most part, we dealt with him how we had to," Rivera said. "Unfortunately, the big issue came about last year and that was something that was out of our control."

The Mecklenburg County District Attorney said in February charges against Hardy were dropped because Holder "intentionally made herself unavailable to the State." He also said Holder "reached a civil settlement" with Hardy.

Team owner Jerry Richardson ultimately made the decision not to pursue Hardy, who was paid $13.1 million by Carolina last season despite being inactive for the second regular-season game and on the commissioner's exempt list for 14 others and two playoff games.

Richardson told ESPN.com at the NFL owners meetings in March that the decision not to keep Hardy was made by him because "we do things right."

But there are those at Carolina who still respect and like Hardy.

"I'm happy Dallas has given Greg another chance and he has the opportunity to go out there and take care of his family and do the things he needs to do," safety Roman Harper said.

"It's unfortunate all this stuff has come out and there's all these whirlwinds and stuff. Greg is a hard-nosed player. He goes out there and gives it every play on Sundays and throughout the week in practice."

Cornerback Josh Norman said he couldn't wait to see Hardy on Thursday.

"He helped me with a lot of things when he was here," said Norman, who was benched late in the 2012 season and didn't resurface as an emerging star until late last year. "He was always the one that gave me that little shoulder nudge, like, 'J, your time is going to come.'

"He was always encouraging. Knowing that I get to see him again on the opposite team is going to be a little fresh air."

Norman said the pictures of Holder didn't change his impression of Hardy.

Defensive end Mario Addison wouldn't address the pictures, but he did talk about his image of Hardy as a teammate.

"He's one of those guys when you take the field, you know he's going to give it all you've got," he said. "If he's banged up or hurt, he's still going to find a way to get the job done.

"He perseveres through anything. I've seen him play with bent-up fingers and he still finished the game. ... He's got that heart. He's got heart, man."

Edwards said he always will "care about Greg and want him to play well." He admitted Hardy made the Panthers better on the field.

But the pictures changed the way Edwards looks at Hardy, even if it didn't have that effect on others.

"I had one of my best years playing with Greg Hardy here," Edwards said. "He's a tremendous talent. He's gonna help that football team win a lot of games. At what price, I guess."

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sportsespnroman harperron riverajosh normancarolina panthersgreg hardynflmario addisondallas cowboysdwan edwardsmike tolbertthomas davis
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