Packers see big things for Peppers

Ryan Wood
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Green Bay Packers' Julius Peppers shares a smile as he stretches with his teammates during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

Julius Peppers smiled at his own expense. All these years, 12 seasons and 119 sacks into a potential hall of fame career, and he is just 34 years old. He still is fast, fit, with a body designed to sack quarterbacks.

But Peppers can't claim youth.

He looks around the Packers locker room and sees teammates who grew up watching him play. Fellow outside linebacker Clay Matthews was barely old enough for a driver's license when the Carolina Panthers selected Peppers with the second overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. First-round safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was 9 years old.

Peppers paused, then sighed, and put his age in context.

"In 2002, a lot of these guys were in middle school, high school," Peppers said. "It has been awhile, but I feel great physically. I feel great. It flies. Time does fly."

He has reached the stage in his career where preseason games lose their importance. Veterans have no need to exert themselves in August, not when they've already proven themselves in the fall. So when Peppers was limited to 10 snaps against the Tennessee Titans last weekend, it should have surprised no one.

But, of course, this is a different preseason for Peppers.

After spending most of his career in a three-point stance, an end on the defensive line, he has switched to outside linebacker. The game moves faster on the second level. Each play, there is more information to dissect. The transition can be challenging, even for a player with Peppers' resume.

Peppers said he needs these preseason reps to get ready for the season. In the Packers' second preseason game, 3 p.m. Saturday at St. Louis, Peppers said he expects to play most — if not all — of the first half.

"It's a little different practicing with guys every day versus actually suiting up and playing a game against another team," Peppers said. "So that's just a part of building this chemistry, jelling with these guys, and building that trust. We depend on each other.

"I'm just going to go out and try to basically get adjusted to playing a new position in a game, getting adjusted to the speed of the game at my new position, and trying to just get better, fundamentally sound."

Packers linebackers Julius Peppers was out of position on Titans running back Shonn Greene's touchdown last week.

His debut last week in Nashville received underwhelming reviews. Peppers found himself out of position on Titans running back Shonn Greene's 13-yard touchdown run. It was the final play for Green Bay's first-team defense, an unsettling way to go out.

Still, Peppers is a three-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler. Even last year, in what most considered a subpar season, he finished with 7.5 sacks. It takes much more than one poor preseason play in limited action to make coaches worry.

"I think he's been outstanding," defensive line coach Winston Moss said. "It doesn't show in the Tennessee game, but he's come in, he's adapted to the scheme. He's a very smart, experienced player. He picks up and understands concepts. He's played long enough, and he's played in enough different schemes, to where he understands everything. He'll have to get used to the terminology and how we're teaching the technique and the principles. Other than that, I think his transition's been smooth.

"And so I think that you have to look at the Tennessee game more as getting his feet wet. Once he gets some more reps in the preseason, I think he's going to take off."

While Peppers learns defensive coordinator Dom Capers' system, he's doing plenty of teaching. Now that he's in their locker room, the teammates who grew up watching Peppers on Sundays are trying to learn the skills that led to his long success.

Peppers doesn't mind sharing advice. He can't claim youth, but Peppers can pass his wisdom onto the next generation. He'll instruct teammates where to line up to defend the run, or how to "attack" a guard or tackle on pass rush, specific details only a veteran can know.

"Certain things I see here and there, I try to share with all of these guys," Peppers said. "I want to pass all the information that I have down to them because I'm not going to be here forever. I want to help as much as I can while I'm here."

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