GREEN BAY, Wis. – Standing a sturdy 6-foot-7, Packers pass rusher Julius Peppers poses an imposing sight to opposing linemen even without pads.
Good thing Green Bay’s front five only has to go up against Peppers in practice now.
The eight-time Pro Bowler and Southern Nash High School graduate is spending his first training camp in Titletown after joining the Packers as a free agent in the offseason following four seasons with the division rival Chicago Bears. The lure of playing in a 3-4 defense that also features linebacker Clay Matthews helped lure Peppers north to Green Bay.
“It is a new challenge, and I’m looking forward to not only proving to myself that I can do it, but proving to the outsiders who don’t think I can do it,” Peppers said Monday after the Packers practiced in pads for the first time.
When last seen at Lambeau Field on Nov. 4, Peppers was wreaking havoc on a Packers offense that had just lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a collarbone injury. He picked off a short pass by backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, and later sacked Wallace to help snap Chicago’s six-game losing streak to Green Bay with a 27-20 win.
“Just the physical stature that Julius has, I mean that alone is intimidating enough for an offense,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “Every time you look at the guy, you’re just as equally impressed as the first time you’ve seen him. He’s just a freak.”
One who has 118 1/2 sacks since entering the league in 2002, ranked 17th in NFL history. But Peppers recorded just seven sacks last season, the fewest for him since 2007.
He became a salary cap casualty in Chicago, which might explain Peppers’ need to prove himself again in his 13th NFL season.
“Well, it’s not about really proving anybody wrong. It’s about accomplishing some personal goals, one of which being is winning a world championship. That’s the main thing,” Peppers said.
For the Packers, Peppers punches up a defense that lacked enough playmakers last season, especially with Matthews sidelined for much of the year with a right thumb injury. The long-haired linebacker is a full participant again in camp following a second surgery in the offseason.
The ideal scenario for coach Mike McCarthy might find Peppers and Matthews charging from opposite ends of the line to hit the quarterback, though don’t expect Matthews and Peppers to just remain on one side or the other.
The first few days of camp has the duo moving around the field, one of McCarthy’s tweaks to a defense that sagged in the second half in 2013.
“I think we’re all about taking advantage of mismatches, but any time you could add someone of Peppers’ caliber to the line, who gets after the quarterback and has a proven sack record, it definitely helps,” Matthews said. “At the same time, the same is expected of me no matter where I’m at in the line, whether it’s left, right, in the middle.”
Just to be clear, though, this is no fad defense where Peppers will primarily be used to cover the flat.
“He’s here to go toward the quarterback, we all understand that,” McCarthy said. “But when he does drop he has great ability and range.”
It’s something he didn’t do much while with the Bears. But Peppers said he’s getting more comfortable with the task – it’s just a matter of adjusting to the learning curve in a different scheme.
“Well, that was one of the things that attracted me to coming,” Peppers said. “A chance to stand up, move around, drop, rush, play in different positions – was one of the things that made me want to come here in the first place.”