Julius Peppers Enjoying Being ‘Off-leash’
By Jamie Wright
It’s not hard to see that Julius Peppers is enjoying his new role in the Green Bay Packers’ complex defense.
After last Thursday night’s blowout of the Minnesota Vikings, Peppers joined the NFL Network analysts at the media desk to discuss the game.
He was all smiles.
Peppers was just the additive that this Packers’ defensive front needed to invigorate it.
Peppers, a 34-year old veteran, is a humble guy who downplays his success and chalks it up to a team effort … which it is. But individual talents have a little something to do with it, as well.
Peppers jokes that John Kuhn and the final play against Chicago last year cost him his job in the Windy City. If that is true – way to go, Kuhn … as Peppers was just the additive that this Packers’ defensive front needed to invigorate it.
The Packers’ motives were questions when they signed Peppers to a 3-year deal this offseason.
Is he really worth that kind of money?
Does he still have what it takes to play in this league?
Green Bay Packers defensive end Julius Peppers. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph
These were the questions players and coaches fielded this offseason. He was even chastised after a slow preseason debut. Ever since, he has quieted the naysayers with his effort between the numbers.
As he sat with former players and coaches after the game, he talked about his feelings within his new defensive scheme. He said that he enjoys being “off-leash” and that his new “elephant” role as a linebacker has really revamped his game.
Peppers has never had a guy like Clay Matthews opposite him, so he isn’t used to not commanding the double team. With Matthews looming on the other side, Peppers gets more free releases than before. When he is challenged, it isn’t by much. He is still in top physical condition and his opponents have all spoken to it, as have his teammates.
On Thursday night, Peppers showed his versatility by rushing the passer and also dropping back into coverage from time to time. One of those times, he was in the right place and on the end of a tipped pass when he intercepted Christian Ponder and returned the pick for six, across the field. For the first time since becoming a member of the black and blue division (the NFC North), Peppers was able to actually enjoy a Lambeau Leap.
Through five games, Peppers has accumulated 1.5 sacks, 3 passes defensed, 15 tackles, a forced fumble and recovery and an interception returned for a touchdown.
He’s just getting started.
The Packers are using Peppers in a way that he has never been used before. He’s always been a hand-on-the-ground, 4-3 defensive lineman.
He’s rushed the passer but he has never really been free from his past schemes. In Dom Capers’ new 4-3 simulation scheme, Julius is one of 5 linebackers that move around to confuse the offense.
Julius Peppers. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
He can put his hand in the dirt, he can stand up and rush, he can drop back into coverage … he can do it all. He doesn’t appear to have lost a step in his thirties – just ask Minnesota Vikings running back Jerrick McKinnon … who was trying to catch him. Instead, Peppers outran him 49 yard to paydirt.
Peppers said that he chose Green Bay because he thought that he could learn some new things from Dom Capers and that he felt like he could come in and contribute to a team that was in a good position to win.
Well, with Peppers playing so well and the defensive line looking hungry and healthy – he could be exactly right.