GREEN BAY – Really? That’s what Julius Peppers’ expression said.
Oh, he knew there’d be skeptics. He’s 34 years old. He’s entering his 13th NFL season. And although he appears to still be in tip-top physical condition, even he acknowledges that it’s reasonable to wonder just how much he has left in the tank.
“You know, I guess it’s something that you expect,” the Green Bay Packers veteran defensive end/outside linebacker said Tuesday afternoon. “There’s not a lot of 34-year-old defensive ends playing in the league, so I guess it’s a fair question.”
But apparently, there are some who believe their skepticism has been validated by Peppers’ 10 inconspicuous snaps in the Packers’ preseason-opening loss to the Tennessee Titans last Saturday night, that it was a sneak preview of the impact-free 2014 season he’ll have for his new team.
If you’re among those doubters, Peppers would like a word. Or, more accurately, an after-the-season film session.
“We’ll see about that,” Peppers said, sounding both annoyed and dismissive. “I’m not really going to get into too much discussing what I can and can’t do. I’m going to let the film speak for it.”
And let’s be clear: Peppers admitted he was a non-factor against the Titans. Shonn Greene’s easy 12-yard touchdown run went right through the area he vacated when he rushed upfield and lost the edge. He was standing up at right outside linebacker at the time, and before the snap, he appeared confused as to where he was supposed to be.
“I didn't get much done,” Peppers confessed. “But it's a start. It's a start. We'll play a little bit more this week and see if we can get a little better this week.”
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Peppers will have a minimal impact this season. As with aging pass rushers DeMarcus Ware (who went from Dallas to Denver) and Jared Allen (who went from Minnesota to Chicago), it’s reasonable to wonder just how productive he’ll be at his advanced age. He had 7.5 sacks last season while playing a whopping 855 snaps last season, and the Packers believe less will be more for him: Fewer snaps, more production.
The feeling in the locker room since Peppers’ signing in March – from Aaron Rodgers to Clay Matthews to Mike Daniels on down the line – has been one of excitement. While transitioning to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme for the first time in his career has been a challenge, in the end, rushing the passer is rushing the passer.
“Julius is doing good. We’ve asked a lot of him. We haven’t just lined him up in one spot,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Peppers Tuesday. “He’s picked it up quickly, he’s getting more and more comfortable, particularly who he’s playing next to and things like that. I think he’s having a solid camp.”
Said Peppers: “I’ve had to make a few adjustments with stance and things like that, getting off from a two-point stance. But other than that, it's really a lot like playing defensive end. So the transition has been pretty smooth.”
Peppers figures to play more extensively this Saturday at St. Louis, but even if he has a similarly unproductive game, it’s no reason for panic. He’s been through 12 previous training camps. Don’t you think he knows how to pace himself for when the games, you know, count?
“[Preseason] is just about getting adjusted to the speed, really. Technique and things, over the years you develop and you get pretty sound at those things,” Peppers explained. “It's just about doing them at game speed.”
Perhaps this stems from Peppers’ reputation for being hot and cold in the effort department in games that do count. But spend some time talking to him, and he seems genuinely revitalized by some of the young talent around him and likes the idea of not being expected to carry the defense all by himself.
If Peppers looks lost or is a non-factor in the Sept. 4 regular-season opener against the defending Super Bowl champs in Seattle, then you can start to worry. But for now, let’s call it what it is: Meaningless.
“Preseason is what it is. We're going to get through that,” Peppers said. “Eventually we're going to have real games for everybody to talk about."
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.