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“I was really excited about Charles Johnson coming into training camp because of what he showed in minicamp and OTAs and the way he’s worked all summer,” Baker said. “Just his mentality, rather than slumping back in the meeting, he’s on the edge of his seat now, ready to answer questions. He’s a different guy. Then, hamstring tweak.”

Hardy, the Mississippi product once considered a first-round talent who fell to the sixth round, has been the most explosive in practice. He physically resembles Peppers the most of anybody on the roster.

“I could have been paid a whole lot more but, hey, I’m in a great position right now,” Hardy said of his decision to stay in school for his senior year. “I’m almost happy that I’m here now and thankful that Julius Peppers is gone. I’m in the spotlight to produce or not produce.”

The remaining 13 defensive linemen on the roster have a combined 36 1/2 career sacks, not even half of Peppers‘ production. So the Panthers can only guarantee having a capacity crowd when Peppers returns to Carolina on Oct. 10, not a competent line.

“I think we’re going to surprise some people,” Brayton insisted. “I think we’re a very talented bunch. Maybe not a lot of people have heard of all of us, but I think if we can play well as a group together, I feel like the sky is the limit.”