Peppers adjusting to reduced playing time

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY - When he talked about having a reduced role before this season and last, Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Julius Peppers couldn't have envisioned playing just 40 percent of the defense's snaps in the team's season opener.

Not after playing 71.4 percent and 84.3 percent in the previous two openers.

It was a drastic reduction for a guy who at age 36 recognizes that he can't play the same amount of snaps he used to and still be effective at the end of the season. The majority of his appearances in the Packers' victory Sunday over Jacksonville were in the dime package as a pass-rushing linebacker or defensive lineman.

Nick Perry has replaced him in the starting lineup at outside linebacker and Datone Jones is receiving most of the backup snaps there. In addition, Jones is taking most of Peppers' snaps on the defensive line in the nickel package.

"Look, this is what I’m doing: I’m playing the game plan the way that it’s written up and the way it’s presented in the meetings on Wednesday," Peppers said. "Less opportunities is something that’s going to be an adjustment. It’s a long season. A very long season. I think we all are going to have to figure it out.

"Me, I’m going to have to make that adjustment and see how I fit into the role that I am being asked to play. I think the coaches upstairs are going to have to figure out the role that they want me to play – when they want to put me in, what’s enough, what’s not enough."

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Peppers seemed surprised he was being asked whether he was unhappy with the number of snaps he was receiving, but he clearly understands that this was a dramatic drop and not exactly what he was talking about when he spoke to the coaches about preserving him for the long run. Not playing a ton of snaps makes it harder on a pass rusher to set up his opponent with various moves and is an adjustment for the 15-year veteran.

"It’s an adjustment, because sometimes when you’re playing, what did we play, 70 snaps last week as a defense? Somewhere in there?" Peppers said. "If you’re playing 55 to 60 snaps,  you have opportunities to pace yourself, pick spots. When you’re not playing as many and you don’t know necessarily when you’re going to be in, you do have to sometimes make it happen when you’re out there because you don’t know.

"Pass rush is a four-quarter game, where you set guys up and when it’s money time, in the late third or fourth quarters, and you have something that you know you want to go to because you set it up in the first half … all of those things."

Going into the first week, Peppers said he had no idea how much he was going to play because the coaches weren't sure how the Jaguars were going to attack them. But playing in the dime package almost exclusively was going to limit Peppers' role because it's a defense coordinator Dom Capers mostly uses on third and long.

Part of the reason Peppers isn't playing on earlier downs is because Perry and Jones have been playing so well. Perry had one of his best games as a pro against Jacksonville and Jones was disruptive both at linebacker and defensive tackle.

For now, Peppers is a complement to the others.

"I would think that plays into it," Peppers said. "Yeah, Nick played well. Datone did too. So the more options we have available, the better in my opinion. That’s not a bad thing, to have more options and more guys playing well. That’s a positive thing."

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