Packers get taste of Peppers' potential

Ryan Wood
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Packers linebacker Julius Peppers tackles Raiders running back Darren McFadden during Friday night's game at Lambeau Field.

It happened so fast, Julius Peppers had trouble remembering the play late Friday night.

All he needed were a few fleeting seconds. Off the snap, Peppers shot upfield like a sprinter leaving the starting blocks. In tandem with fellow outside linebacker Mike Neal, the 13th-year veteran closed in on the quarterback like he'd done hundreds of times before.

Naturally, Oakland Raiders starter Matt Schaub slid up in the pocket, trying to evade the rush. He couldn't. From the ground, Peppers somehow, some way forced Shaub to tumble for a 5-yard loss.

"To be honest with you, it all happened so fast I really didn't see it," Peppers said from the locker room after the Packers 31-21 win against the Raiders before a crowd of 73,907 in their preseason debut at Lambeau Field. "I didn't see the replay. So, I don't know.

"Just try to get him down any way you can."

When Peppers sees the film, it'll show his best preseason performance of the season. Which, of course, is a good sign for a 34-year-old transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker.

Peppers has gotten better with each preseason game. There were underwhelming reviews in his opener two weekends ago against the Tennessee Titans. Last week in St. Louis, he recorded his first tackle for loss in a Packers uniform.

On Friday, Peppers led the first-team defense with three tackles, including two for loss. He also had his not-so-long-awaited first sack as a Packer. It's the kind of consistent improvement expected from an eight-time Pro Bowler. At this stage in his career, no challenge should be too daunting.

Inside linebacker A.J. Hawk didn't want to speak for Peppers, but he's sensed improvement from his teammate each time on the field this preseason.

"Oh, of course. His physical presence has always been around," Hawk said. "You always know where he's at. That's what he can do. That's what he's done in this league for so long. He can take games over. He's done it for years and years. So I think we got a tiny little taste of that tonight.

"We've been watching as fans up until now, and now he's on our side. So it's great to see."

The Packers allowed a touchdown on their first series Friday night, a 40-yard run from Raiders tailback Maurice Jones-Drew that will earn plenty of teaching points during film study Saturday. Peppers didn't record a tackle on that first series. The next time he stepped onto the field, he opened Oakland's second offensive series with the sack.

The Raiders second drive ended with the first of what would become five straight three-and-outs following Jones-Drew's touchdown. It's no coincidence the Packers' defense improved as Peppers began making plays. His leadership – not to mention his production – should be a constant theme for Green Bay this season.

"When he speaks, we listen," safety Micah Hyde said. "It's as simple as that. When he gets talking, after that first drive, he kind of said some things and we all just listened."

Afterward, the media swarmed around Peppers. It's a locker room scene he's surely used to at this point in his career. Peppers seemed a bit amused, a bit befuddled, the future Hall of Famer wondering why there was such a fuss over a simple preseason sack.

If Peppers was pleased with his performance, he barely showed it. There was no smile. His answers were short. With more work to do, Peppers was ready to leave the locker room and move on to the final week of the preseason.

"I thought it was decent," Peppers said when asked for a third time – with each question worded differently – what he thought of his night. "I thought the performance was decent. It could be a lot better. We're going to look to improve and apply more pressure in the coming weeks.

"I'm just trying to knock a little rust off before we get to these real games."

— and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.

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