Julius Peppers stands out vs. Oakland

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Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, August 24, 2014

GREEN BAY—Eyes wide, Datone Jones tilts his head toward Julius Peppers a few feet away.

At 34 years old, in his 13th NFL season, after nearly 200 games, Jones is convinced the player standing behind has a lot to give.

“You see him today? He has a long time,” Jones said. “As you can see, he’s a special athlete. The things he does, he’s very blessed.”

This was one exhibition game against one of the worst teams in the NFL a year ago. Nobody should shine the bust in Canton quite yet. But this was also the best Peppers has looked to date in Green Bay. Playing most of the first half in Green Bay’s 31-21 win over Oakland at Lambeau Field, Peppers had three tackles (two for loss) and his first sack.

Clay Matthews converging from one side. Another pass rusher converging from the other.

The Packers haven’t seen the effect of two dangerous pass rushers in unison since Dom Capers and his staff arrived in 2009. It’s been the lingering missing link in this defense.

To Peppers, Friday was a start, not much more. He doesn’t see that double-whammy effect yet himself.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I thought it was decent. I thought the performance was decent. It could be a lot better, so we’re going to look to improve and apply more pressure in the coming weeks.”

One week after dinging Sam Bradford from the blind side, the 6-foot-6, 287-pounder put together a promising all-around performance.

Game by game, Green Bay has carefully unveiled Peppers.

Midway through the first quarter—while held by Kevin Boothe—Peppers logged his first sack as a Packer, tripping up Matt Schaub. Trapped near the ground, he tried taking down Schaub by any means necessary in a blur.

“To be honest with you,” Peppers said, “it all happened so fast, I really didn’t see it.

“Try to get him down any way you can.”

He flashed athleticism, dropping then attacking on a tackle of Darren McFadden for three yards. On another first down later in the half, the Raiders attempted to run away from Peppers to the right side and he close fast for the 2-yard loss. And Peppers even dropped about 10-15 yards into coverage on a pass break-up by Davon House.

The Ray Nitschke Field practice setting doesn’t do much for a guy like Peppers. But through a fairly quiet August, Friday was a loud night for the former Chicago Bear.

“Man, I’ve been seeing it since he got here before,” Jones said. “I’ve been watching this dude play since I was 13. It’s crazy.”

After a slew of missed tackles on Maurice Jones-Drew’s 40-yard touchdown run, the Packers strung together five straight three-and-outs in which the Raiders netted zero yards. Thus, Jones sees the potential for a “dominant” front seven, and taking any step toward dominance would need to begin with Peppers.

Like practically everyone in Green Bay, Jones raved about Peppers.

He calls him “a coach on the field,” a player who’s still young “in his 30s” because of the way he conditions his body.

As Peppers exited the field, he pointed toward the crowd and saluted. The Packers let one aging star go in Oakland’s Charles Woodson and then gave an opportunity to another. They see more game in Peppers.

Still, Peppers himself was in no mood for confetti afterward. Yes, he has been building off each exhibition game. Yes, he’s “comfortable” within Capers’ defense. He called that first sack “exciting” in a not-so-exciting monotone.

It’s one game.

“I thought it was a solid performance for the defense,” Peppers said. “I thought it was pretty good. We have some things we did well out there, we also have some things that we can clean up. So we’ll review the film tomorrow and address those things.”

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