Peppers is 'unique'

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The NFL is populated by several intimidating defensive players capable of inflicting considerable punishment. Yet, there are few absolute scourges of the league that approach the disruptive, game-changing level of Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers is the rarest of commodities.

He's an athlete so strong that he manhandles the heftiest offensive tackles.
He's fast enough to chase down Atlanta Falcons speedster Warrick Dunn on the opposite side of the field.
And he's dedicated enough that he religiously studies game film to try to surpass an already lofty personal standard.
A former two-sport standout at the University of North Carolina who was a noted slam dunk artist, the 6-foot-7, 285-pounder actually scored 46 touchdowns as a high school tailback and dabbled in the triple jump and relay races.
"He's definitely up there with the greatest that I've been around," said Carolina coach John Fox, who used to coach New York Giants All-Pro defensive end Michael Strahan. "I just turn on the tape and he never ceases to amaze you. It's not just his athletic ability, but his work ethic and effort to get to the ball is pretty remarkable."
Peppers is tied for the NFL lead with six sacks after thrashing blockers in a 20-12 victory over the Cleveland Browns. He leads Carolina with 14 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
Since 2002, his five blocked field goals are the second most in the NFL. He has five three-sack games under his belt with 46 ½ sacks since being drafted second overall in 2002.
"I think I have a different mentality as far as approaching the game now," Peppers said. "As a younger player, I tried to rely on athletic ability a little too much.
"While I was making plays, I really didn't have a true understanding of the game and the schemes. Over the years, I have concentrated on that area. That's one of the main keys for me having a fast start to the season."
Now, Peppers is the Baltimore Ravens' problem as Carolina (3-2) visits M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. Although he's only played against the Ravens (4-1) once, they haven't forgotten about him. Peppers' pass deflection in his first NFL game in 2002 led to an interception by linebacker Dan Morgan to clinch a 10-7 Carolina victory.
"He's kind of unique," offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "There hasn't really been a guy like him in the NFL since probably Lawrence Taylor." Operating at left defensive end, Peppers will primarily be right tackle Tony Pashos' assignment. Pashos is certain to get chip-blocking assistance to counteract Peppers' athleticism to protect quarterback Steve McNair. It's a rare player whose reputation commands that type of respect, but Peppers takes it as a routine part of his job.
"It used to be frustrating," he said. "You go into the game knowing that it's going to happen. You know they're trying to take you out of the game. You've got to find a way to beat it. I accept it as a challenge."
Ravens offensive guard Jason Brown was a freshman at North Carolina during the end of Peppers' dominant run through the Atlantic Coast Conference that earned him the Lombardi Award as a junior after 30 ½ sacks in three sacks.
"That guy has so much God-given ability," Brown said. "Everything about him is so rare."
Twice selected as a starter to the Pro Bowl, Peppers posted 10 ½ sacks last season, 11 in 2004 and 12 as a rookie in 2002.
"In the years I've been in the league, I don't think I've ever seen any defensive player be able to dominate a game the way Julius does," Carolina teammate Al Wallace said. "How many times in a row is he hitting the quarterback?
"It's incredible. I catch myself trying to watch him to see what he's doing. He's absolutely the most amazing defensive player I've seen in my lifetime."
Against the Browns, Peppers had only one sack, but he forced a fumble, was credited with four quarterback hurries and struck Cleveland quarterback Charlie Frye five times.
After his path was blocked to Frye on one sequence, he dropped back into coverage and broke up the pass 15 yards downfield.
Peppers is the kind of pass rusher that speeds up a quarterback's internal clocks. They're extremely cognizant that they have a reduced amount of time to release the football.
"You have to know where he is at all times," McNair said. "There's nothing you can do to stop him. You just have to contain him a little bit. He's a very powerful guy and his motor is always running."
An avid reader of John Grisham novels, Peppers is a soft spoken, humble 26-year-old. He's content to let his actions speak for himself, but his competitors in the NFL aren't shy about praising him.
"Oh gosh, he's got it all," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's athletic. He has size, explosion, strength. He transitions from recognition to action as quick as any defensive lineman I've seen.
"Now, you add to it the veteran perspective he has -- the anticipation on top of those incredible physical skills -- it makes him pretty spectacular."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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