If Julius Peppers is the oldest player on the Green Bay Packers roster, his preparation this spring and summer has done little to support that status.
Sure, the 36-year-old about to enter his 15th NFL season may get a few extra snaps off during these OTA practices. Many veterans do. But what fans have not seen is the 6-foot-7, 287-pound hybrid linebacker running sprints with the defensive backs in team workouts.
“I’ve been doing that since college. I like to run. That’s my thing,” said Peppers following Thursday’s practice. “I like to run in the offseason. So, whenever I have a chance to get with those little guys and try to push myself and use one of those guys as a rabbit, I try to jump in there with them and see if I can keep up.”
Stay in shape. Do the right things. Work hard. Embrace the grind in the offseason. That is the message Peppers wants to send to the younger players on the team if they want to play as he has -- at a high level for a long time. Peppers has been the oldest player on the roster for the past two seasons. He is nearly four years older than the next closest, Aaron Rodgers. Yet, as he looks around the locker room, even on one of the perennially youngest teams in the league, he feels anything but an elder statesman.
“To be honest with you, I feel like I’m one of these young guys – most days,” said Peppers. “Some days I get up and feel like an old man but, for the most part, I still feel pretty good.”
Peppers has yet to miss a game since coming to Green Bay in 2014. His consecutive regular-games-played streak is 128, tying him with Curtis Lofton for the longest active streak among linebackers. He rarely misses a practice, too. When coach Mike McCarthy gave him a day off late last season, it made headlines.
Peppers is not letting up, either, as he gets older. On the contrary, he is actually putting in more time to make sure to make sure he is primed for another productive season.
“The only thing is I just don’t take as much time off,” said Peppers of how his offseason differs from earlier in his career. “When I was a little younger, I could take two, three months off without doing anything. Now I can’t do that. I’ve got to stay active.”
While the Packers have been cognizant of his snaps, Peppers and fellow outside linebacker Clay Matthews have been used more as chess pieces to create mismatches. Peppers had sacks off the edge, as an interior lineman, with his hand on the ground and standing up in 2015. He missed out on recording a sack in the wild-card round at Washington but helped set up three other sacks in that game. In two postseason games, he led the team with 10 quarterback pressures. In 18 games total, he posted 11.5 sacks.
“Sometimes you see him during the year and you forget, I’m not even going to say how old he is, but how long he’s been in the league and his model of consistency,” said Matthews. “He hasn’t had a 20-sack year. He’s always 10-10-10, ripping them off year after year and now he’s a handful of sacks away from being in the top five and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. It’s fun to watch. I’m very fortunate to have him on my team and not only learn from what he’s able to do on the field but kind of how he carries himself and how he goes about his business and how he prepares. Even though I’m going into Year 8, you can always take something away from guys who have similar success – actually a lot more success. It’s a good thing we have him on our team and I’d like to think he’ll continue that success until he wants to call it a career.”
Though Peppers was noncommittal following last season, there was really no doubt in his mind that he was coming back for another season. The hesitation immediately following the playoffs was based on other reasons.
“I don’t really think it was a decision at all,” Peppers told Packer Report. “Sometimes, and I’m not speaking about this team specifically, but you get into these situations where a team has the option to release a player or go a different route. The decision’s not always yours. On my part, I always wanted to come back. I just didn’t know how it was going to work (at the time) or the direction the team was going. So, I just didn’t want to put anything out there like that.”
Peppers is in the final year of a three-year contract he signed with the Packers in 2014. He is scheduled to count $10.5 million against the salary cap, the fourth-highest hit on the team.
How long, if at all, will he continue to play after that? Not even Peppers knows that.
“I’m taking it one day at a time, not even one year at a time,” said Peppers. “It’s just how I feel every day coming in. I still love doing it, so I’m going to keep doing it until I lose the passion.”