Peppers Goes Back to North Carolina

While Julius Peppers spent his entire life in North Carolina before coming to the Chicago Bears as a free agent, the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher has made the transition quite smoothly.

Until seven months ago, Julius Peppers had lived in North Carolina his entire life.

But he won't be offended if Panthers fans boo him when he and the 3-1 Bears take the field at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium at noon Sunday.

"That's what fans do," Peppers said. "It's part of the game. You're there to boo the opposing team, and I'm not a part of the team anymore, so I understand that."

His arrival in Chicago was met with great expectations, but that's something Peppers has dealt with since he first stepped on a high school football field as a 6-5, 225-pound freshman. It wasn't long after that that opposing teams started game-planning specifically to stop him, so the attention he's getting from Bears opponents is nothing new.

"This is not just happening," he said. "It didn't just start happening once I got here. I've been dealing with this my whole career, so I'm used to it and I pretty much know what kind of things the other teams like to do to take away some of the better defensive ends. Really, it's a normal thing now. I don't pay any attention to it."

Despite the attention, Peppers leads the Bears with two sacks and two forced fumbles and is second with five quarterback pressures. He hasn't single-handedly transformed the Bears into a team that terrorizes opposing quarterbacks, but the numbers don't fully explain what he has meant to the Bears' defense.

"He's getting held three or four times a game," middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "He's a great athlete, and he's a phenomenal football player. He sees things happen before they happen, and it's going to be fun to play behind him."

Peppers is just as happy to be playing in front of Urlacher and Lance Briggs as they are to be playing behind him.

"Those guys are unbelievable," Peppers said. "That's one of the reasons that I came here, was to play on a team like this and to play with linebackers who come downhill and hit people. I've admired those guys and the work they've done for the past 10 years. It's an honor to be on the same team and get to go out and suit up."

Peppers grew up about three hours from Charlotte in Bailey, population 684. He played football and basketball at the University of North Carolina and was drafted second overall in 2002 by the Panthers.

There was a level of comfort.

"It allowed me to stay at home and grow a little bit as a person, because I still had a strong support system there and a strong circle of friends," he said. "I think in that aspect it allowed me to grow up as a man more than anything."

But Peppers wanted the security that he got with a six-year, $91.5 million contract from the Bears.

Despite leaving his support system behind, Peppers said he hasn't struggled with the adjustment to a new team and a new home.

"It wasn't hard at all," he said. "The transition has been fairly smooth. Off the field, everything has been smooth. On the field, pretty much the same. There haven't been too many hiccups. The transition and me getting here has been everything that I expected, and it really couldn't be any better."

QB Jay Cutler
Bill Kostroun/AP

Barring any setbacks, quarterback Jay Cutler appears to be on schedule to play Sunday after practicing on a limited basis Wednesday afternoon. During the small portion of practice open to the media, Cutler wore a helmet and shoulder pads and tossed passes to various receivers. He showed no ill effects from the nine sacks and concussion he suffered in the first half of Sunday night's loss to the Giants.

After practice, Cutler was scheduled to meet with an independent doctor for an evaluation of his condition. He cannot play Sunday until an independent doctor determines he is asymptomatic after rest and after exertion.

Cutler did not address the media, as he normally does at noon on Wednesdays. He may talk Thursday, which would be another indication that he will play against the Panthers.

"He was able to do some things," coach Lovie Smith said after practice. "That's all a part of working him back into the flow of things. The evaluation process continues with him, but getting back out on the practice field is a part of that."

Cutler has never missed an NFL game because of an injury, but the NFL has never been as conscientious as it currently is regarding concussions.

"We have a process that we go through with our doctors, through our medical staff," Smith said. "That started right after the game and will continue."

Along with Cutler, backup Todd Collins also took snaps with the first team, and the 38-year-old veteran will start if Cutler is not cleared.

"We practiced [Cutler] just to kind of see how he feels moving around and all that, so he shared some snaps out there," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "We gave Todd some snaps just in case, and we'll just see where this goes." ...

The release of Mark Anderson could create an opportunity at defensive end for rookie Corey Wootton this week, especially if recently-signed veteran Charles Grant isn't ready to play yet.

"By losing a player, it opens up another slot for some guys like Corey," Smith said.

Anderson had three of his five tackles this season against the Giants, and he was credited with four of his team-best six quarterback pressures a week earlier against the Packers.

"Mark did a lot of good things for us while he was here, helped us win a lot of football games," Smith said. "We just felt like we needed more production on the line and felt like Mark had a lot of opportunities. We wanted to take a look at some of our other players that hadn't gotten an opportunity to play." ...

The news that Pro Bowl wide receiver Randy Moss is coming back to the Vikings after a trade with the Patriots didn't bother Peppers, even though it should strengthen the NFC North foe.

"I'm excited," Peppers said. "I'm a fan of Randy's. It's going to be exciting to have him back playing against him and competing against him. You want to play against the best, and, obviously, he's the best."

"I just tried to do way too much in a short week with these guys. They are not ready for that. We've got a bunch of young guys trying to learn how to play, and we lost our poise, got on our heels and couldn't do much of anything right. That's an old coach's fault right there." – Offensive coordinator Mike Martz, taking the blame for an offensive line that was partly responsible for allowing 10 sacks against the Giants.

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