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Mike Vandermause column: Teammates sold on Peppers' impact

Jun. 9, 2014
 

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Green Bay Packers' Julius Peppers, left, takes part in organized team activities Thursday at Ray Nitschke Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

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Julius Peppers never has been known to brag about his exploits, but then, that won’t be necessary now that he’s a member of the Green Bay Packers.

His new teammates and coaches will glady do all the talking for him.

They were gushing this past week at the team’s organized team activities about the 34-year-old Peppers, who signed as a free agent with the Packers in March and is expected to revitalize the defense with his fearsome pass-rushing skills.

Those are great expectations for a 13-year veteran who some think is past his prime. But if you believe the hype coming from the Packers’ locker room, then Peppers is going to be special.

The 6-foot-7, 287-pound Peppers has been working out in the Packers’ offseason program since late April and has already made a big impression.

The last thing on linebacker A.J. Hawk’s mind was Peppers’ age.

“I don’t know how old he is — do you guys know how old he is?” said Hawk

When told he was 34, Hawk replied: “He runs like he’s 18. If there’s ever a genetic freak that was put on the planet, it’s Julius. He’s just a specimen. I have a ton of respect for how he works, too. What a great teammate he’s been since Day 1.”

That’s a huge compliment coming from Hawk, who is known around the Packers’ facility as a workout warrior. But he wasn’t finished singing Peppers’ praises.

“What a big, impressive guy,” said Hawk. “Playing against him, him being in Chicago for all these years and getting to see him up close and personal two games a year, it’s something I’ve always kind of been impressed by. Now to see how good of a guy he is, how good of a teammate he is — he’s already exceeded the hype.”

That might be hard to do, but Peppers seems to have won over a lot of his new teammates.

“I think he’s a guy that brings a lot of legitimacy to the locker room, to the defense,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “He’s done it at a high level for a number of years. It’s fun to not have him chasing me around. I think when he totally understands the leadership opportunity he has on this football team, that defense has an opportunity to do some pretty amazing things.”

Rodgers was talking about a Packers unit that ranked in the bottom fourth of the NFL last season, so he’s either living in a fantasy world or really believes something significant is happening on defense.

Is it realistic to think Peppers can make a big difference at his age?

The last time the Packers brought in a thirty-something prospect that transformed the defense, the year was 1993 and the player was Reggie White.

No one should suggest Peppers belongs in the same league as White, a Pro Football Hall of Famer. White was two years younger than Peppers when he signed with the Packers as a free agent and remained effective for six seasons in Green Bay.

At 37 in his final season with the Packers, White produced 16 sacks in 1998, his highest single-season total in a decade. He proved that age doesn’t always define a player’s skill set.

Peppers hopes to make the same statement in Green Bay. Since entering the NFL in 2002 he has produced the second-most sacks behind Jared Allen.

But it isn’t just the sack prospects that excite the Packers. It’s Peppers’ ability to open things up for other players, namely Clay Matthews.

“It's going to present some difficulties for the offense to not only block the two of us but other guys who have stepped up in recent history,” said Matthews.

“Should be a formidable pass rush this year, so I'm looking forward to it.”

Peppers’ sack production could rise, considering he has never played with a pass-rushing threat as good as Matthews.

“I really haven’t had that, ever,” said Peppers. “So I’m excited.”

If the low-key Peppers is getting excited, maybe the Packers really have something. They sure seem to think they do.

“He brings a foundation, he brings experience, he brings production, he brings impact,” said linebackers coach Winston Moss of Peppers.

“I think he’s going to be able to bring an immense amount of just a winning spirit, a winning attitude to this defense and to this team.”

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause

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