First, Hardesty came into camp 100 percent healthy, which he was unable to do while still rehabbing from a knee injury in the 2010 preseason finale. Second, with an offseason to prepare for the schedule and being the second year in the West Coast offense under head coach Pat Shurmur, Hardesty feels a different vibe around training camp.
“The biggest difference is just getting back healthy,” Hardesty said. “Now, I’m able to go out there and compete and really work, just compete with other guys in practice. I put a lot of work into this season and I want it to show every day. I want to come out and play football the way I know I can play and am just trying to get better every day.
“I feel like this whole training camp, we kind of brought a new energy to the field. We’ve got a whole lot of young guys. We had a lot of young guys last year and I think all the younger guys got a bit older and all the older guys, they want to win just that much more. I think it’s been a bigger focus. With Coach Shurmur in his second year and our whole second year of being together, we’re just all coming in more focused and ready to win.”
During the 2011 season, Hardesty played in 10 games and made four starts. However, he was slowed by a calf injury around the same time Peyton Hillis was battling his way through a nagging hamstring injury. In and out of the lineup for much of the season, Hardesty only rushed for 266 yards on 88 carries and caught 14 passes for 122 yards.
Hardesty acknowledged that “this is the best I’ve felt” since the 2010 preseason finale against the Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“I was able to get my knee back strong and really get my knee back to where I wanted it to be,” Hardesty said. “This is the first time I’ve been full strength since I tore my ACL.
“I’m not thinking about my leg or thinking, if I do this, this might happen. I’m able to go out and play. I’m confident in all I have to do and confident playing a football game. I’ve been playing the game a long time. I love the game and respect playing football, so I put a lot of work into it. Someone once told me, ‘The more you put into it, the more you get out of it.’ That’s the way I’m looking at it.”
Hardesty’s confidence has shown through his play and was quickly recognized by the coaching staff.
“When you return from injury, there’s that point where everybody says you’re healthy in that first year or so,” said Shurmur, who himself had an ACL surgery during his playing career. “Technically, you are, but it takes a little bit of time before you are healthy and confident. I think he’s more at that place right now.”
Hardesty is “excited” to be back on the football field and able to contribute to the team.
“I like playing football,” Hardesty said. “I’m excited about every season, especially this year coming in healthy. Last year, I came in still limping and I never really came up over the hump. I’m just happy to show people what I can do. I feel like I’ve got something to prove, still have a lot of things to prove and I’m going to come out here and do that.
“I’m just ready to play. I want to win. I’m used to winning playing football, and I think that’s a focus our whole team has. I want to come and help our team win and also, I want to show the guys that I’m ready to play this year.”