IRVING, Texas -- Greg Hardy chose to talk about football just about every time he was asked about the domestic violence case that led to the Dallas defensive end's four-game suspension.
Meeting with reporters Tuesday now that the ban is lifted, Hardy even found a way to talk football when asked if he planned to get involved with charities associated with domestic abuse following the conviction in North Carolina last year that was later thrown out.
"I feel the best way to win a game is stick to the game plan," Hardy said before a rambling reference to running the ball and getting sacks. The roughly 10-minute session was the first time he has talked to reporters at length since signing with the Cowboys as a free agent in March.
Asked what his message was for people who didn't think he should be playing after he was accused of roughing up his former girlfriend, Hardy said, "God bless you."
And as for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell essentially declaring him guilty in his original ruling of a 10-game ban that was later reduced by an arbitrator, Hardy said, "I don't remember the decision. Check with Mr. Goodell and my lawyer, though. I'm pretty sure they've got you. Thank you, though."
If he plays Sunday against Super Bowl champion New England and quarterback Tom Brady, it will be the 27-year-old Hardy's first game since the 2014 opener for Carolina, where he played his first five seasons. He spent the rest of last season on the commissioner's exempt list with his North Carolina case still going through the legal system.
Hardy said he didn't think it would take him long to return to the form that helped him tie Carolina's franchise record with 15 sacks in 2013.
"I hope I come out guns blazin'," said Hardy. "I'm full of excitement and full of juice. I have what they call fresh legs."
Hardy was accused of choking and pushing his ex-girlfriend and throwing her on a futon that had at least four semi-automatic rifles on it. As for whether he had any remorse or regret over the accusations that led to 13 months without a regular-season game, Hardy said he was "sorry I couldn't be here for my teammates."
"The worst feeling in the world is not being there for somebody you care about or somebody that needs you," said Hardy, whose current girlfriend had their first child about a month ago. "That's what we need, a full team, and everybody pulling their load. And that's what I'm going to do when I come back."
The Cowboys signed Hardy to a one-year, $13.1 million contract that's heavily based on incentives, including some related to how many games he plays. He participated in the offseason program and training camp and played in three of the four preseason games.
A North Carolina judge convicted Hardy last year, but it was thrown out on appeal in February when the former girlfriend, Nicole Holder, couldn't be located to testify in a jury trial. Hardy received all of his $13 million salary while he was on the exempt list.
"It's hard to get sacks when you're not on the football field," Hardy said when asked how difficult the past year had been. "That's my main purpose in football, to get back there and get sacks and make a difference on the team. And I wasn't able to do that. It was a process mentally for myself."
The Cowboys have dropped from No. 3 to No. 14 in total defense in just two weeks, and they couldn't stop sore-armed Drew Brees and previously winless New Orleans at the end of regulation or in overtime of a 26-20 loss last weekend.
Dallas also gets linebacker Roland McClain back this week. He served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
"Yeah, timing's great," defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said. "We would have loved to have had them Week 1 but it's definitely good to have them back."
Crawford said Hardy's energy is what stood out during the offseason and training camp.
"In walk-throughs, he's going hard and he's watching his keys and making sure he's playing the way he wants to in the game," Crawford said. "He's just around here with high spirits and just trying to bring everybody up, high energy."
As for where the focus of that energy is: "Sacks," Hardy said.