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Monday, August 25, 2014
Age question follows Julius Peppers

By Rob Demovsky

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You might think Julius Peppers would bristle at the question by now.

After all, he has heard it more than once since he signed with the Green Bay Packers in March.

Still, the veteran pass-rusher appears to take it in stride every time he is asked how much he could possibly have left in the tank after 12 NFL seasons.

"There's not a lot of 34-year-old defensive ends playing in the league," Peppers said recently. "So I guess it's a fair question. But I don't really put too much into it."

For one thing, the Packers aren't asking Peppers to play defensive end. Instead, they view him as a perfect outside linebacker in Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme.

Rather than playing with his hand in the dirt like he did during his Pro Bowl years in Carolina and Chicago, the Packers want the 6-foot-7, 287-pounder standing up in a two-point stance. But that's a technicality. They want him to do what he has always done -- rush the quarterback.

"Just look at him and you see physically with his height, his long arms, his athletic ability, you can see the basketball in his background," Capers said. "He's a really smart guy. He's picked things up mentally really better than I anticipated he would."

Although the Packers gave him a three-year contract that included a $7.5 million signing bonus, it's essentially a one-year trial because that's the only guaranteed money in the deal.

Peppers is coming off what most consider a disappointing season by his standards, which is why he fell to No. 50 in the second annual ESPN #NFLRank list from 15th in last year's poll.

Last year, the eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection recorded just 7.5 sacks despite playing in every game. However, even if he were only able to replicate that sack production, it would be the highest total by a Packers player not named Clay Matthews since Aaron Kampman had 9.5 in 2008, the year before Capers took over the defense.

"It's not really about maximizing my individual statistics or anything like that," Peppers said. "It’s about maximizing my abilities to try and fit into this defense and try to help this defense be more productive. It's about me coming here, trying to come here and help this defense and help this team win."

The Packers believe the addition of Peppers could free up Matthews for more one-on-one pass-rushing opportunities.

It's the first time in Matthews' five-year career that he has played with another legitimate pass-rushing threat.

"You look around the league and you look at the tandems of pass-rushers who have one on the left and one on the right, they definitely help increase their numbers as well as the effectiveness of that defense," Matthews said. "We're hoping that this year's no different. There's a reason we brought him in here; it's to help create pressure on the quarterback along with myself and the guys in the middle. You look at a lot of defenses that are pretty good in this league, they have pass-rushers that can get after the quarterback and get them off their spot, and I think that was clearly evident in the Super Bowl last year."