Peppers enjoying new role on Packers' defense

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Green Bay Packers linebacker/defensive end Julius Peppers during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field, Monday, July 28, 2014.

Julius Peppers came to Green Bay with the goal of returning to a Super Bowl and preferably winning it this time.

The fact defensive coordinator Dom Capers runs a 3-4 defense made the opportunity that much more appealing to the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman who has played most of his 12 NFL seasons in a 4-3.

Even at 34 years old, his body type remains one of the NFL's most unique at 6-foot-7, 295 pounds. Although some say his skill set has diminished – his 7½ sacks were his fewest since 2007 – there's optimism he can be the play-maker he's always been.

Peppers doesn't believe his game needed to be revitalized by a new scheme, but he's found a transition to outside linebacker and occasionally dropping back into coverage like he did against tight end Jake Stoneburner in Monday's practice to be a refreshing change-of-pace, as well.

"I'm enjoying it. It's a little different than what I've been used to in the past," said Peppers of the transition. "I actually think it fits my skill set better than just being down every play. I'm having fun doing it. I'm just enjoying it."

The Packers signed Peppers to a three-year, $26 million contract in March to provide the consistent pass rush across from Clay Matthews that general manager Ted Thompson has been unable to find in recent drafts.

His 118½ career sacks are the third-most among active players. Even in what was considered a down year, Peppers' seven sacks would have placed him second on the Packers behind Matthews (7.5) in 2013.

Now, can he do better in an altered role?

"You look at my last year. Was it one of my better years? Probably not, you know, statistically," Peppers said. "But if you compare it to a lot of the guys who played last year, it was better than a lot of guys. So, I don't really think I need to revitalize anything, just improve upon what I did last year. That's not going to be easy to do. I should be able to do it."

A few lockers down, fifth-year outside linebacker/defensive lineman Mike Neal still sees the fire burning inside the 13th-year veteran.

"You can't speak on something that don't look human," said Mike Neal when asked about Peppers' body type. "Julius is everything they hype him up to be. … People say he's lost a step but look at what he was doing in Chicago – 295 pounds and playing a 1,000-plus snaps at that age. You can't kid yourself. That's a lot for him but you see him now not taking as many reps. He's a little bit meaner. He's moving around phenomenally right now."

The Packers hope Peppers and Matthews can help take the blockers off each other. As defensive lineman Mike Daniels puts it: "You have two of the greatest to have ever done it on the same team, how much better could it get?"

Peppers' deal with the Packers runs three years, but only $7.5 million is guaranteed. The talent is evident, but time no longer is on his side to finally grab a ring.

He thought he'd get more chances after his second season with the Carolina Panthers in 2003 ended in a 32-29 loss to New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII, but he's made only three more playoff appearances since then.

Maybe that will change in Green Bay.

"It tells you that once you get there you've got to win it because you never know when you're going to get back," Peppers said. "Hopefully, this is the season. Hopefully, we can get it done."

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