ORLANDO, Fla. – He’s not going to be a defensive end, at least in the traditional sense of the word. He’s not going to be a linebacker, per se, either. An elephant? Well, that’s the term Mike McCarthy intends to use, but not in the historical football sense of the word.
But whatever the Green Bay Packers are going to call Julius Peppers this season, they hope the most accurate phrase will be this: Defensive playmaker.
Speaking for the first time about his team’s marquee offseason acquisition, McCarthy said Tuesday that Peppers will be a “multiple-position player along the defensive front,” something Peppers has longed for since the final year of his time with the Carolina Panthers, when he expressed a desire to play in a 3-4 scheme. Although the Packers use the 3-4 as their base defense, they’ve played their sub packages on roughly 75 percent of their defensive snaps over the past five seasons, according to McCarthy, and those are the personnel groups where McCarthy hopes Peppers’ impact will come.
“He has more to offer in his opinion – and I agree with him – from an assignment standpoint,” the Packers coach said Tuesday during a lunch interview with Wisconsin reporters covering the NFL Meetings. “Competing against Julius, he’s lined up on both sides at defensive end, he has been an inside rusher. Those experiences he already has and will continue to do so, but what we ask him to do, we will have more flexibility with him. And we will probably ask him to align in another place or two.”
The 6-foot-7, 287-pound Peppers, who is entering his 13th NFL season and has recorded 118.5 sacks in his career, still has not been made available to reporters, despite having signed with the team on March 15. But in an interview with the team website after he signed, he expressed excitement about what defensive coordinator Dom Capers might have in store for him.
“(Capers) likes to be versatile and do different things. That’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole career,” Peppers said. “I’m a pass rusher, so that’s going to be a big part of what I can do. Play hard and have an impact in every game.”
For coaching purposes, McCarthy said Peppers will be under the positional purview of linebackers coach Winston Moss and assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley, who are coaching both inside and outside linebackers after the staff was reshuffled following outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene’s resignation.
McCarthy said Peppers, as well as converted defensive end Mike Neal and possibly 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry, will play a position he’s calling the “elephant” position, although it isn’t the ‘tweener defensive end-linebacker that former Packers defensive coordinators Ray Rhodes in the early 1990s and Ed Donatell in the early 2000s called “elephants” during their coaching tenures.
“That’s a different deal. We’re just using the term. And I’m the one that put it on there,” McCarthy explained. “The elephant, in my understanding of the old system, (was) that ‘tweener body type. You go get the nose guard, you get the three-technique (defensive tackle), you get the traditional defensive end and then the elephant end was those guys that were between the 3-4 and 4-3.”
That Peppers will be coached by Moss and McCurley and not defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, his former defensive coordinator with the Panthers, isn’t significant, McCarthy said. That’s because he intends to have the linebackers and defensive linemen spend more time in meetings together this year, much like he does with running backs with offensive linemen or quarterbacks with wide receivers and tight ends on offense.
“We talked a lot in the offseason about spending more time together with the D-Line and the linebacker group,” McCarthy said. “We felt we needed to get back to more of the traditional coaching structure where guys are spending more time together – frankly, more like we do on offense. [On offense], there’s a lot of position interaction in meeting time and group periods, as far as walk-throughs. There’s more time that they spend together than they did probably three, four years ago. So it’s really moving more that way defensively, and that’s a big part of developing in the elephant position and making sure it’s taught from Day 1 that those particular players will know two, three, maybe four different positions.”
Whatever they call him, the most important thing for the 34-year-old Peppers is that the Packers don’t plan on having him on the field for the 855 snaps he played last season for the Chicago Bears.
“That’s a theory not only with Julius but really that we’re paying a lot of attention to as the way we format our defense,” McCarthy said. “To answer your question, I don’t see him playing that many snaps this year, but we’re in the business of projecting right now and the path we’ll take as a team will obviously have a lot to do with that, too.
“For planning purposes, defensively, we want to do more things with different personnel groups. We want to be more personnel groups, less volume schematically. We have a lot of creativity in our scheme that we really didn’t get to last year because of injuries. So [we want to] make sure we have multiple personnel groups with the right amount of volume schematically.”
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