In fact, Peppers, the second overall pick of the 2002 draft, ranks 17th in NFL history and third among active players with 119 career sacks.
Peppers, however, served notice on Tuesday that he’s not just a one-trick pony. On back-to-back plays in a half-line drill that is focused solely on running the ball and stopping the run, Peppers showed a physical dimension to his game.
Lined up at right outside linebacker, Peppers took on powerful fullback Ina Liaina, who was the lead blocker for running back Michael Hill. The 6-foot-7 Peppers used his right shoulder to drive Liaina back, then bounced off the collision and used his enormous reach to collar the 5-foot-10 Hill up around the neck to make a tackle just behind the line of scrimmage. It was one of the loudest collisions of training camp.
On the next play, with Peppers again at right outside linebacker, rookie lineman John Fullington pulled as the lead blocker. Peppers stood up the 300-pound Fullington in the hole, which forced the back to cut back inside, where he was swallowed up by the rest of the defense.
“I like everything he’s done,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Tuesday. “He’s come in here, been very serious, very professional. For a guy to play inside and do the things inside that he’s done, and now just be able to bump out there and do the things that we’re asking him to do, he’s got great flexibility to him. I like what I’ve seen out of him.”
If there were any concerns about Peppers following a tepid preseason debut, he’s answered them during the last few days. He had a quarterback hit against St. Louis that jarred the ball loose, as well.
“He’s shown that it’s very important to him,” linebackers coach Winston Moss, flashing a big smile when reminded of those plays against the run, said on Tuesday. “He’s taken every rep very, very seriously, taken practice seriously. He comes to work every day.”
Peppers, his credentials notwithstanding, must prove himself to be an all-around defender. Otherwise, at a deep position group, his playing time will be limited. Moreover, playing the run at a high level – an area in which Peppers ranked poorly last season by ProFootballFocus.com’s metrics – will only help Peppers’ rushing the passer, Moss said.
“If you can get a guy that, when the offense tries to negate some of his pass-rushing ability by running at him and try to take steps to take away his ability to affect the passer, if he can show up vs. the run, if you can’t defeat him vs. the run and he can be impactful vs. the run, then all of a sudden, when he gets his opportunity to rush the passer, all of this is going to raise his level of importance to the defense. I’m happy to see that he’s embraced being able to play the run as hard as he can and try to grow through what we’re asking him to do. He’s accepted the challenge and been very physical doing it. So then all of the pass-rushing, all the coverage stuff is going to come to play. I’m pleased.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com, and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.