GREEN BAY – At least twice during his time as the Green Bay Packers’ defensive line coach, Mike Trgovac has used Julius Peppers to illustrate a point about another player. In those conversations, Trgovac spoke very glowingly of his former pupil
Peppers, who signed a three-year deal with the Packers on Saturday, played for Trgovac for seven seasons with the Carolina Panthers, from 2002 through 2008. Trgovac was the Panthers’ defensive line coach for Peppers’ rookie season, when he had 12 sacks in 12 games while also forcing five fumbles. From 2003 through 2008, Trgovac served as the Panthers’ defensive coordinator, but parted ways with the Panthers and then-head coach John Fox after the 2008 season. He joined the Packers when head coach Mike McCarthy switched to the 3-4 defense and hired Dom Capers as defensive coordinator.
Last summer, after the Packers drafted defensive end Datone Jones with their first-round pick, Trgovac was asked if Jones bore any resemblance to the 6-foot-7, 287-pound Peppers, an athletic freak who played football and basketball in college at North Carolina.
“One thing Julius did, Julius detailed his game and every year I think he got better and better and better,” Trgovac said. “One of the things I concentrated with on Julius when he was a rookie was not giving him 50 million things to think about so he’s out there rushing the passer thinking about this, thinking about that. He had 12 sacks his rookie year and I think he only played 12 games. Then the next year I added more to his instruction.
“You wanted his natural ability to take over. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do with Datone. You try to make sure you don’t overload the guy because he is a good athlete.”
Two years earlier, Trgovac was asked about a player whom some perceived wasn’t playing hard all the time. There have been times during Peppers’ career when his effort level has been questioned, but Trgovac insisted that Peppers was never lazy during his time coaching him.
“Everybody said that about Julius, and the more we researched it, the more it wasn't true,” Trgovac said. “You've got to be careful sometimes. Sometimes somebody will give a guy a label and it'll get spread around like it did with Julius, and it wasn't true. Julius works his ass off and has been a great player. So you have to be careful. Sometimes a bad rumor gets started about a kid and it just keeps going and multiplying. So you have to make the decision for yourself.”
Following the 2008 season, Peppers asid he wanted out of Carolina, adding that he wanted to play in a 3-4 scheme where he could be a stand-up outside linebacker. The Panthers kept him by placing the franchise tag on him, despite his protestations, but he remained steadfast in wanting to leave the team even after Trgovac's departure. It's unclear whether the two were on good terms or not at the time of Trgovac's departure.
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