Monday, July 28, 2014
Peppers believes new role suits him well
By Rob Demovsky
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Julius Peppers, all 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds of him, strikes an impressive pose on the practice field.
He stands – literally in some cases – a head above his new Green Bay Packers teammates.
That was unmistakable even in shorts and helmets during the offseason practices.
Put the pads on, like the Packers Monday did for the first time in training camp, and the full-frame image of Peppers was even more impressive.
He looks the part of a pass-rusher worth the $7.5 million signing bonus the Packers forked over as part of the three-year, $26 million free-agent contract he signed in March. He split four reps in his first go-around in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill on Monday, registering two victories.
Julius Peppers is excited about his role with the Packers.
But it looks like the Packers are going to ask him to do more than just rush the quarterback.
And that's fine with him.
He's an outside linebacker now in a 3-4 base scheme after playing the last four years as a defensive end in the Chicago Bears' 4-3 system and before that in Carolina for eight seasons.
There he was on Monday, dropping into coverage against tight end Jake Stoneburner on a crossing route.
Although Peppers would not concede that he needed a change to revitalize his career, which he does not believe needs revitalization, there's reason to think the 34-year-old who is entering his 13th NFL season has a renewed sense of purpose on the field.
"It's fun. It's fun," he repeated. "I'm actually having a lot of fun. I'm enjoying it. It's a little different than what I've been used to in the past. I actually think it fits my skill set better than just being down every play. I'm having fun doing it. I'm just enjoying it."
All that might be fun for Peppers and a way for defensive coordinator Dom Capers to disguise him, but the Packers signed Peppers for one overriding reason: his 119 career sacks, which rank third on the active list.
"He's here to go towards the quarterback; we all understand that," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "But when he does drop, he has great ability and range. And you look at his ball skills, we do a lot of ball skills with the whole team by design, I want everybody to handle the football. He handles the football like an offensive player."
Peppers had only 7.5 sacks last season -- his lowest output since 2007 -- and he chuckled at those who use the word "only."
"You look at my last year, was it one of my better years?" Peppers said. "Probably not, you know, statistically. But if you compare it to a lot of the guys who played last year, it was better than a lot of guys. So I don't really think I need to revitalize anything, just improve upon what I did last year. That's not going to be easy to do. I should be able to do it."
Even if Peppers was only able to replicate his sack total from last season, it would be better than any Packers player not named Clay Matthews since Aaron Kampman had 9.5 in 2008.
"It’s not about really proving anybody wrong," Peppers said. "It's about accomplishing some personal goals, one of which being is winning a world championship. That's the main thing. That's the main motivation. All that other stuff, it's there, but it's not as big as coming in here and helping this team hoist that trophy at the end."
If there's pressure on Peppers to improve the Packers' defense from its 25th overall ranking last season, it might not be even close to what the Bears placed on him last season before they cut him because they felt he wasn't worth the $18 million salary-cap charge.
"You look at our defense right now, there's a lot of high expectations for those guys," Packers guard T.J. Lang said. "The talent that they have, all across our D-line, the linebackers, the defensive backs. It's a group that you look out at, it's impressive to look at 'em. Just the physical stature that Julius has. I mean that alone is intimidating enough for an offense. We've played him eight or nine, 10 times since I've been here. Every time you look at the guy, you're just as equally impressed as the first time you've seen him. He's just a freak. And then you go to Clay out there, who's also proven to be one of the best pass-rushers in the game. It's just an impressive group to look at."