Green Bay Packers know what Julius Peppers brings to table
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--When the Green Bay Packers reconvene at 1265 Lombardi Ave., David Bakhtiari will have a question for Julius Peppers.
The left tackle never understood these hot-and-cold, motor-related concerns himself.
Through his two games against the defensive end—and all that Packers-Bears footage he studied—Peppers was a brawler.
Or, in Bakhtiari’s words, this 6-foot-7, 287-pound “freak” was “geeked up” to play Green Bay.
“I don’t know what gets into him,” Bakhtiari said, “but every time he plays us, he’s getting after it. I want to ask him, ‘What is it about going against the Green Bay Packers that you just bring it all the time?’ I didn’t get the chance to see him being hot and cold.
“He was steaming hot when he played us.”
The Packers are gambling that the Peppers they’ve encountered twice a season with the Chicago Bears is the Peppers they signed in free agency. The No. 2 overall pick in 2002 is already one of the greatest athletes to play the position, a slam-dunking North Carolina power forward with 119 sacks and 39 forced fumbles in the pros. This is no Charles Woodson 2.0 signing. Peppers is 34 years old. He’s on a three-year deal, which could turn out to be a one-season experiment.
On the field, Peppers showed signs of slowing down last season. Scouts have ripped his selective effort.
So, for now, the hot-and-cold questions subside. Bakhtiari and other offensive tackles say Peppers does, indeed, have a lot to give.
“He’s a guy that comes around once every decade,” Bakhtiari said. “He’s a freak. Yeah, he’s older but he’s still a hell of a player. He still can run people down from behind. He gets after the quarterback. He has long limbs. And he’s so thick, so strong.”
In his two games against Green Bay last season, Peppers resembled a hungry 24-year-old, not a declining has-been.
At Lambeau Field, Peppers had a sack, an interception and two pass break-ups. In the winner-take-all Soldier Field finale, he drove Bakhtiari back more than once with one strip-sack that Jarrett Boykin scooped up for a touchdown.
Bakhtiari remembers that play well. Peppers raced outside, planted and cut inside to whack Aaron Rodgers.
If one Bear wakes up with the ball rolling around, there’s a good chance Chicago wins the NFC North.
“He’s got a really good hump move,” Bakhtiari said. “He’s strong and he’s got a big ‘ol foot, too. He planted his foot and had a lot of surface area. He’s really good at humping back inside. When he humped back inside and Aaron was holding onto the ball, he got that ball out.”
Bakhtiari describes Peppers as “crafty.” In their battles, Peppers didn’t rely on pure athleticism. That’s a good sign; athleticism alone doesn’t last forever.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ plan remains to be seen. Peppers could be his long-lost pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews. Bakhtiari sees that ability, sure. But he also believes Peppers can do damage inside. When Peppers slipped inside to tackle those NFC North games last season, he remembers left guard Josh Sitton yapping at him to kick back outside.
It’s a difficult, unfriendly matchup for guards conditioned to bash into 330-pounders.
“It’s going to be very, very tough for inside players to guard this guy,” Bakhtiari said. “He can definitely disrupt inside.
“In that confined space, he’s still strong as hell, strong as an ox. Usually guys on the inside are a little slower. He already has that strength. But he’s also really quick and that’s what can mess with a guard.”
With fewer snaps, a sputtering motor may be a moot point. One former NFL general manager is skeptical.
How did a player this powerful, this athletic manage only seven sacks last season? How did opposing offenses gash Chicago for an embarrassing 5.3 yards per carry, a seven-year NFL worst?
No, Charley Casserly isn’t so sure Peppers will snap back to form. Especially at 34.
“You see some inconsistency with him where he doesn’t necessarily finish plays,” said the former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans general manager. “He’s kind of a ‘flash’ guy at this point.”
How much does he really have to give? “No one can answer that.”
Detroit Lions tackle Riley Reiff chuckles when asked if Peppers’ motivation waned last year. It’d be dumb to criticize an opponent who’s still in the NFC North. But he also insists, repeatedly, that Peppers is “still a hell of a player.” He sees the veteran meshing with Green Bay’s youth.
“I mean, just look at him,” Reiff said. “Long arms. Physically strong. He’s powerful. He’s quick off the ball. All that. He’s just an overall, if you look at a defensive end, that’s what you want.”
“I think he can play for a long time, yeah.”
Elsewhere, New Orleans rookie tackle Terron Armstead remembers studying Peppers on film before his team’s matchup. He wasn’t starting yet, but he wanted to be ready just in case.
After all, Peppers is “freakishly athletic,” he says. In Armstead’s opinion, he’s a Hall of Famer.
“Watching film of him,” Armstead said, “whenever he wanted to turn it up, he still has that ability.”
To re-assert itself as a Super Bowl defense, Green Bay is counting on Peppers’ turning it up. Often. This is a classic boom-or-bust signing. How much of the headhunter who totaled 24.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles in back-to-back seasons a half-decade ago remains is uncertain.
But the Packers are ready to find out.
Said Bakhtiari, “He has so many intangibles and so many things people aren’t born with.”