During this year's training camp and preseason, the Chicago Bears experimented by sliding Israel Idonije inside from his usual defensive end spot to play defensive tackle on passing downs. To take his place, the club brought rookie defensive end Shea McClellin off the edge.
On the first 3rd down of the game for Chicago's defense, McClellin came on the field and lined up at right defensive end. Peppers moved to left defensive tackle, in between Idonije and Henry Melton. Peppers drove G Mike McGlynn five yards into the backfield, collapsing the pocket in QB Andrew Luck's face. McGlynn's back hit Luck as he was releasing the ball, causing the pass to flutter high and incomplete. The Colts were forced to punt.
On Indianapolis' third 3rd down, there again was Peppers at left DT. He was doubled inside, which gave McClellin a one-on-one matchup outside. McClellin used a spin move to blow past T Anthony Castonzo, forcing Luck to release the pass early. The ball fell incomplete, forcing the Colts to punt again.
Peppers continued to rotate at defensive tackle throughout the game, each time with positive results.
The Bears yesterday were forced to sit DT Nate Collins, who was serving a one-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, and held out newly signed DT Amobi Okoye. As such, only three defensive tackles suited up. The Bears made up for that by using Peppers inside.
"It just helps with so many things," said coach Lovie Smith. "If you keep a guy at one spot, if he's a right end, the left tackle knows he can just concentrate on that body type, that guy, just watch everything he does. But now guys across the front have to … and to me you have to be concerned if Julius Peppers is lined up over you."
Peppers is a rare breed, a player so athletic that he can be a force no matter where he lines up.
"He's as good an athlete I think as there is in the NFL," Smith said. "Anything you ask him to do, he can. I'm convinced that if we ask him to play free safety, he would figure out a way to play it well. Linebacker? He's as fast as anybody. We can talk the rest of the day about Julius Peppers but it's good to be able to do those things with him.''
Peppers finished the game with three tackles and a fumble recovery. Yet the stat sheet belies his impact on the field, as he commands double teams on nearly every play, opening things up for guys like Melton, who had 2.0 sacks yesterday, and Corey Wootton, who picked up his first sack since 2010.
In nickel situations, it's up to Peppers where he wants to line up.
"Most of the time we're telling a guy where to go but we give the guys some flexibility in some of the passing situations," said Smith. "But Julius will tell you that everything Julius does goes through [defensive coordinator] Rod Marinelli with a plan in mind.''
Peppers said it's a group effort as to the makeup of the defensive line on passing downs.
"We have a good rotation," said Peppers. "We communicate, everybody communicates. Sometimes I want to go inside, sometimes I don't. Sometimes other guys want to go inside. Basically, it's a decision that we all make."
Bear Report wrote last week about the versatility of Chicago's defensive line. Almost every player has the ability to play multiple positions, allowing Marinelli to mix and match as the game goes on. If Peppers isn't getting pressure inside, then he can give Idonije a shot at tackle, or bring in Okoye or Stephen Paea, or any of a number of different permutations to find one that works.
It's a great luxury to have.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.