Healthy again, Hardy eager to prove himself

– Towering at the line of scrimmage, James Hardy casts an imposing shadow over opposing cornerbacks. During the Baltimore Ravens' recent series of informal workouts at Towson University, Hardy leapt high into the air to haul in an errant sideline pass that initially looked like it was headed out of bounds

For the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, it was a prime example of the potential the Buffalo Bills identified in Hardy three years ago when they drafted him in the second round out of Indiana University.

Last September, though, the Bills gave up on Hardy following a pair of injury-plagued, unproductive seasons that included a torn anterior cruciate ligament toward the end of his rookie season. Finally healthy again, Hardy is determined to prove the Ravens were wise to take a flier on him when they signed him to a reserve/future contract in January.

"I don't have to have any organization let me go to have any more motivation that what I have inside of me already," Hardy told the Carroll County Times. "Unfortunately, they didn't believe and Baltimore did." Hardy, 25, wound up not playing for any NFL teams last season after being cut by the Bills. He looks fluid and quick, but there was no real pass coverage to speak of.

Although Hardy caught only 10 passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns for Buffalo, he's confident that the only obstacle that prevented him from being successful was injuries. "I feel I can bring the deep threat," Hardy said. "That's something that I specialized in college. Unfortunately due to injuries, I wasn't able to showcase that in Buffalo. Everything is healthy, I'm back 100 percent. Now, I'm just ready to go, ready to work.

To make the team and forge a niche on the field, he'll need to climb a crowded depth chart already occupied by starters Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason as well as second-rounder Torrey Smith, fourth-rounder Tandon Doss as well as kick returner David Reed and Justin Harper. T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth aren't going to be back.

The Ravens drafted two receivers after acquiring Hardy, but he says that isn't discouraging. "No, not at all," he said. "I have confidence in myself."

Ever since the Ravens' low-key acquisition of Hardy, general manager Ozzie Newsome has brought him up unprompted several times. "Hardy is a guy coming off an ACL that he had in his first year, but we think he's a guy that has the opportunity to become a good player in this league," Newsome said. "And maybe he can do that here in Baltimore."

That's what the Bills were thinking about Hardy, though, and it didn't work out. He began his second season on the physically unable to perform list, but wound up playing in only two games after being activated and caught one pass.

"He was in and out, but he had some really good days," Bills coach Chan Gailey said when he cut Hardy. "I think he was healthy the last week or two, and we got to look at him. I don't think the injury deterred him. It got him behind mentally more than it did physically." A lanky former Indiana basketball player who was named All-Big Ten Conference, Hardy finished his career with 191 receptions for 2,740 yards and 36 touchdowns.

As a junior, he was named All-American after catching 79 passes for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns.

That's when he decided to leave Indiana after averaging 14.2 yards per catch for his career. There are no cornerbacks as big as Hardy, so he expects to win those jump-ball situations. "I don't think about height," said Hardy, who averaged 27.3 points and 9.8 rebounds as a high school senior. "I just think about ability and who wants it more. I've just got to dominate who's in front of me, no matter what size they are."

Hardy also overcame an off-field issue in his hometown of Fort Wayne during his college days when he was arrested and charged with domestic battery and interfering with the reporting of a crime after being accused by his girlfriend of hitting her and their infant child. Hardy pleaded not guilty and the case was eventually dismissed through a pretrial diversion agreement where he had to comply with court conditions and pay court costs. Since that incident, Hardy has remained out of trouble.

He graduated from Indiana this spring, going back to school to complete his bachelor degree in general studies. Hardy also worked out with the Hoosiers football team during conditioning workouts that began at dawn.

Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is a former Indiana head coach, but Hardy said that's not the reason he's on the team. "It really doesn't matter who you know in the organization," Hardy said. "If you can't bring nothing to the table, then you're not going to be any use. I feel my raw ability and talent is the reason why I'm here."

Hardy denied that his struggles in Buffalo were caused by anything but his inconsistent health. "No, it was just injuries," Hardy said.

Hardy never played much in Buffalo, but he did have one year where he was mentored by veteran wide receiver Terrell Owens behind the scenes. "I learned to be a professional," Hardy said. "I learned to do things behind closed doors from watching T.O, so I can be that elite receiver." Hardy spent all of last season trying to get back on an NFL roster.

He tried out for the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and the Seattle Seahawks last fall, but was never signed. Being back on an NFL teams is especially meaningful to him.

"It's awesome," Hardy said. "I've been waiting for a year to be a part of the organization. Now, I'm part of the best one, I feel, and I'm ready to get to work."

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