Julius Peppers called it a "fastball." First hand, the Green Bay Packers outside linebacker saw the kind of zip only Aaron Rodgers – arguably the NFL's hardest-throwing quarterback – can muster.
For weeks, Peppers had been catching Rodgers' passes in practice, preparing to run a goal line play as a tight end. Behind closed doors, the play had been a success. In prime time Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints, the result was different.
This time, Rodgers' pass came in hotter than expected.
"We ran the slant, and he threw a fastball," Peppers said. "It was a little hot, so I couldn't get my hands up in time to snag it."
It was Peppers' first offensive snap since his days with the Carolina Panthers, before the potential Hall of Fame pass rusher hit his 30s. It would have been his first career reception, too. Instead, Peppers got open in the end zone only to drop Rodgers' pass.
Since watching Peppers burn the Minnesota Vikings earlier this month with a 49-yard interception return for touchdown, the joke inside Green Bay's locker room was Peppers missed his calling as a tight end. After that game earlier this month, Packers coach Mike McCarthy – seemingly joking at the time – said he might use Peppers on offense. Rodgers said he wanted to see it.
Alas, Peppers' drop showed why he's been a defensive player his entire career, despite his rare athleticism.
"It was a little harder than maybe he was expecting," Rodgers said of his pass. "Yeah, he ran a good route and got his chest on it. Pep's a talented guy. We've ran that play at practice a number of times and he's come down with it. That one was probably faster than he was used to."
The slant route got Peppers open in the end zone, but offensive coordinator Tom Clements said the play has options. The 6-foot-7 Peppers could just as easily run a fade route and try to catch a jump ball. Of course, he could also be a decoy.
Peppers said he didn't know if he'll get another opportunity to catch a pass. McCarthy didn't rule it out Sunday.
"I'm not discouraged by Julius dropping the football," McCarthy said. "I think if you go through preparation phase, and if you had seen the execution of the play over the last six or seven weeks, I think you'd be confident to call it again."
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