Cowboys sign LB Hardy to help with pass rush

Sunday, April 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ When Kevin Hardy visited the Dallas Cowboys last week, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer took him into a room and flipped on some films from last season. Zimmer described all the ways he wanted to use Hardy as an outside linebacker whose main job is to rush the quarterback.

Hardy liked the ideas so much that he was willing to sign a one-year deal with an option for four more that's based mostly on whether his surgically repaired right knee is strong enough for him to return to Pro Bowl form.

The deal, which will count about $1.5 million toward the salary cap this season, was reached late Saturday and announced at a news conference Sunday.

``The ability to be able to rush the passer and make plays is what I'm all about, that's what I thrive on,'' Hardy said. ``When I was in a system where I could move around, that's when I was at my best. I really believe this is a system that's similar. I feel like it puts me in a position where I can do what I like to do best _ put on pressure and make plays.''

Hardy was available because Jacksonville released him in a salary cap move. He played six seasons for the Jaguars, who made him the No. 2 pick in the 1996 draft.

Hardy has 28 1/2 career sacks, including 10 1/2 in 1999, when he was named All-Pro. He had 5 1/2 in nine games last season, then tore cartilage in his knee during a practice and missed the rest of the season. He had surgery in December and began running two weeks ago.

``My rehab has been going great. All indications are that I'm 100 percent recovered,'' Hardy said. ``I definitely plan to be ready for training camp. I feel like that's the most important thing.''

Cowboys linebackers have made just one sack the last two years. The entire team had only 24 last season, their second-fewest in a 16-game season, and just nine interceptions. Despite those low numbers, the Cowboys still allowed the fourth-fewest yards in the NFL last season.

``He offers something we have not had at the linebacker position since I've been here,'' said coach Dave Campo, entering his 14th season with the team. ``With the ability he has shown to slither, he's going to be able to do some things to up our ability to rush the passer and force some bad plays.''

Hardy will take over for Markus Steele, who became a starter in October as a rookie, and will be used on the strong and weak sides. Hardy said he expects to get at least eight or 10 sacks.

``That's the level I was at a couple years ago. There's no reason I can't be there or above that in this system,'' he said.

Dallas began upgrading its defense by signing defensive tackle La'Roi Glover last month, then cornerback Bryant Westbrook. The next big move was supposed to come with the No. 6 pick in the draft Saturday, but adding Hardy gives Dallas another starter.

``It creates flexibility, gives us more options,'' team owner Jerry Jones said.