Hardwick underwent foot surgery last offseason and by the time he was fit, he had missed the Chargers' first three games.
Hardwick, at 6-foot-4, 295, relies as much on smarts and leverage as he does strength. He is also a calming influence when things get dicey, with his off-beat sense of humor.
C Nick Hardwick
Last year, though, he admits he had trouble getting into a groove. The Chargers felt the same way, as the team dropped two of the three games he missed.
"For a while I felt like I was just hanging on," Hardwick said. "I wasn't performing poorly, but I wasn't myself. Some of the blocks that I would have made I wasn't making. It probably wasn't noticeable to anybody but myself, but I knew exactly what I was and wasn't doing."
Hardwick is often his harshest critic. But while he looks back on last year with some disappointment, he's wearing a big smile these days during the offseason conditioning drills. Unlike last spring, he's got a spring in his step as he's able to participate.
That should help, Hardwick said, when the Chargers open the season in Oakland on Sept. 14.
Hardwick said by the time he knocked the rust off, he was back to his old self in 2008.
"I felt like I was having really good games at the end of the year," he said. "I felt normal at the end of the year. I was doing things that I wanted to do for a long time but was unable to do. I made blocks that I was proud of. I was glad I pushed myself and played."
The Chargers are hoping to resurrect a once powerful running attack which fell off the rails last year. Despite a one-two punch of LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, the Chargers were 20th in rushing yards per game, averaging but 108.
Some of that can be traced to Hardwick's early-season injuries -- as well as Tomlinson being banged up.
But both are back and working, which could have opposing defenses on the run.
As well as having the Chargers laughing again in the huddle, courtesy of the wacky Hardwick.