Could less of Julius Peppers mean more of Julius Peppers?
Throughout the offseason and continuing through the first two days of training camp, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry have lined up as the starting pair at outside linebacker. Julius Peppers and Jayrone Elliott have lined up with the second unit.
With Peppers having turned 36, it would make sense to limit his exposure to the physical battles in the trenches and keep him fresh to do what he’s done best throughout his career: rush the passer. Peppers had 10.5 sacks last season, and he ranks No. 1 among active players and is tied for No. 9 all-time with 136 career sacks. If he gets even six sacks this season, he’ll move into fifth place.
With Clay Matthews moving back to outside linebacker, Datone Jones moved to outside linebacker and Kyler Fackrell added to the group with a third-round pick, the Packers have ample depth at the position. With Perry and Jones, they have the size and power to combat opponent ground games, which would allow Peppers to play a higher percentage of his snaps on passing downs and become something closer to a designated pass rusher than an every-down defender. Of course, that would all be dependent on Perry doing what he's failed to do in his career: stay healthy.
“It’s a good thought,” coach Mike McCarthy said before Wednesday’s practice. “We’re in the training camp phase of this season. You really have to get through the install and play the games and however the 53-man roster shakes out, that’s when you make those decisions. Hopefully, we are in that position.”
Peppers is embarking on his 14th NFL season. He has 17.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions during his two seasons with the team. With defensive coordinator Dom Capers judiciously using Peppers last season, he had 5.5 sacks in his final seven games (including playoffs). Peppers played 114 fewer snaps than in 2014. According to data provided courtesy of Pro Football Focus, the reduction was overwhelmingly vs. the run — 103, to be exact. According to PFF, Peppers spent 39.3 percent of his snaps playing the run in 2014 but just 32.2 percent in 2015.
Having Perry replace him in the starting lineup and Jones in reserve presumably would further reduce Peppers' role in the run game.
“There comes a time when you can’t play as much," Peppers said after Tuesday's practice. "You can’t play as many plays, you can’t exert yourself so much – especially at this time of the year. So I’m perfectly fine.
"I’m going to be 37 at the end of the season. These guys are going to be here a lot longer. We need to see what we’ve got. We need to see. So there’s a lot of dynamics going on, and it’s just how this thing works. I think it’s the right play, I think we’re doing it the right way.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.