Jimmy Clausen was one -- the prodigal QB who was born and bred to play in the NFL -- and some may have considered Brandon LaFell or even Armanti Edwards to be major steals prior to the start of the season.
However, it was the defensive end out of Ole Miss, Greg Hardy, who impressed consistently throughout training camp and the preseason.
Hardy was drafted in the sixth round (175th overall). His college numbers -- 38.5 career TFLs and 26.5 sacks, including 10.0 in 2007 to top the SEC -- would impress any scout. But the concern was whether he could remain healthy coming off a foot injury.
The Panthers took a chance on Hardy, and so far it has paid off, but Hardy experienced some growing pains on Sunday.
Hardy received plenty of action in the Panthers' home opener against the Buccaneers. He had moderate success in shedding his blocks and had a few opportunities to make a play, but he never could capitalize.
While his pressure was certainly felt by Bucs QB Josh Freeman, Hardy came up short in the stats column. He did score two tackles on the day, but one of his first major rookie mistakes came with the Bucs in the red zone. Hardy missed a coverage assignment on Earnest Graham and left him wide open for a touchdown pass and the Bucs' first score.
Hardy's next mistake was a bit more serious -- a roughing-the-passer call that converted a third-and-9 for the Bucs at the Panthers' 24-yard line, leading to a field goal that wasn't much more than an extra point for Connor Barth.
While most fans wouldn't fault Hardy for his penalty, as it did look incidental and his mistake was simply not being able to stop himself, it's still something he will look at and try to improve on for the next game.
Hardy was impressive in his regular season debut last week with his work on defense and with special teams, but he sputtered a little bit (along with the rest of the team) against the Bucs. Right now, though, it looks like the coaches have faith in Hardy, and his spectacular talent and upside will keep him on the field.
Other Rookie Notes
The fans chanting for Jimmy Clausen Sunday had their wish fulfilled, as he took over for Matt Moore late in the game for the second week in a row, although this time it wasn't because of an injury.
Clausen entered the game in the fourth quarter at the 10:03 mark, and in under five minutes, Clausen was able to complete as many passes (six) as Matt Moore had the entire game.
Clausen's first three passes were incomplete and he certainly missed his mark a few times, but he pulled it together and would have led the Panthers on a touchdown drive had Jonathan Stewart not been tripped up at the 1-yard line.
Clausen finished the day 7 for 13 for 59 yards with one interception. On Monday, it was announced that Clausen would start on Sunday against the Bengals. He's yet to put up stellar numbers, but his coolness in the pocket, acute decision-making ability and enormous potential have earned him the starting spot.
David Gettis finished the day with two catches for 18 yards. The Panthers are still looking for a solid No. 2 receiver behind Steve Smith and Gettis had his chance with Brandon LaFell out and Dwayne Jarrett playing behind him. Unfortunately for Gettis, Dante Rosario, DeAngelo Williams, Mike Goodson and Smith all gained more yards receiving than he did.
Robert McClain scored a couple of tackles on special teams, including a great one on Micheal Spurlock immediately after he fielded a Jason Baker punt to send him back 2 yards.
Alex Montgomery is a graduate of Western Carolina University with a degree in Professional Writing. He has worked for the Western Carolinian and his hometown newspaper, the Kernersville News. He currently resides in Charlotte, NC. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.
Rookie Report: Greg Hardy
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