Thompson Sees Peppers' Elite Traits

Peppers (Kirby Lee - USA Today Sports)

Julius Peppers might be 34 but general manager Ted Thompson has seen no decline in his level of play or athletic ability.

Ted Thompson is happy to have Julius Peppers in the fold.

But the Green Bay Packers general manager insisted Thursday that landing the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end from the rival Chicago Bears won't have an effect on what Green Bay does with its nine selections in next week's NFL draft.

In his first public comments since Peppers' surprising signing on March 15, Thompson said he believes the 34-year-old lineman has plenty left in the tank and that he expects him to have an impact on the Packers' up-and-down defense.

"There's no evidence of any decline in his play, in our opinion," Thompson said Thursday. "He still has the same athletic traits that he had coming out (of college). He's had a remarkable history in the NFL in terms of durability. We're looking forward to it. I think he is, too."

The 6-foot-7, 287-pound Peppers certainly has been durable, playing in 186 of a possible 192 games. He's also been productive, registering the second-most sacks (118.5) in the NFL and forcing the fifth-most fumbles (39) since he entered the league. He leads all NFL defensive linemen with nine interceptions over that span.

But playing 855 snaps for the Bears last season, Peppers managed only 7.5 sacks, the third-lowest total of his 12-year NFL career. The Packers envision him as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense, and their hope is that by playing him fewer snaps, they will not only increase his production but give opposing offenses another pass-rushing threat to worry about opposite four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews.

Matthews, who missed six games last season with a twice-broken thumb, is expected to be fully healthy for training camp.

"When I view him as a football player, he's an individual you'd like to create targeting problems," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Peppers in March. "He has the ability to play from the two-point stance, has the ability to play on the move."

In 10 career games against the Packers with Carolina and Chicago, Peppers has recorded 9.5 sacks, his fourth-highest total against a specific opponent. The Packers finished tied for eighth in the 32-team NFL last season in sacks with 44 despite Matthews' absence.

Their hope is that Peppers, who reported for the first day of the offseason program last week, will have an impact on more than just that one category.

Last season, the Packers finished tied for 24th in scoring defense (26.8 points per game), 25th in yards allowed (372.3), 25th in rushing yards allowed (125.0), 24th in passing yards allowed (247.3) and tied for 20th in takeaways (22).

"It's fun to see Julius. He's a specimen. He looks great," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said last week. "It'll be fun to get him really into the fold and get him feeling like he's part of the team, encouraging him to be a leader for us. I think he brings a lot to the table -- on the field and in the locker room. I'm just excited about not having to run away from him anymore."

As hopeful as the Packers are of Peppers' contributions, Thompson insisted that he won't approach the No. 21 overall pick - or any of his other picks - differently with Peppers on board.

"We talked about this before. I might sound like a broken record, but we feel that the draft is a long-term investment," said Thompson, whose team's most immediate needs appear to be at safety, linebacker, tight end, offensive line and cornerback. "We don't get too carried away with what our perceived needs are at the moment. We think that's good business. If you can marry those things up that's fine but if you stretch to try to fill quote unquote need somewhere then you end up messing up a couple of spots, so we try to stick to the best player available."


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