Sunday, September 7, 2008

Peppers looking to bounce back

Julius Peppers is a 6-foot-7, 283-pound freak of an athlete who is faster than a speeding bullet—4.68 second 40-yard dash—and more powerful than a locomotive—56 all-time sacks tops in team history.  And if the Panthers hope to turn around their abysmal 2007 season, they will need Julius Peppers to be Julius Peppers again.

More magician than locomotive last season, Peppers started two

 fewer games, made 20 fewer tackles, and collected a whopping 10.5 fewer sacks, doing an all-around disappearing act for the length of the Panthers’ mediocre 7-9 season.

‘‘Going 8-8 and 7-9, that doesn’t cut it in this league,’’ quarterback Jake Delhomme said of the Panthers.  ‘‘If you don’t perform well, you’re looking to get run out extremely quick.’’

If the preseason is any indication though, the freak who grew from the ground up in Wilson, N.C. is back.  Peppers has embraced his move to the right side of the defensive line and has been a stud in the preseason, terrifying NFL coaches into trotting out sacrificial second-stringers.

Even though NFL teams actually stopped sending double-teams Peppers’ way in the final games of his pedestrian 2007 season, Peppers said he isn’t playing with a chip on his shoulder this year.

"Some people may feel like I should prove something, but I don't feel I've got anything to prove to anybody," Peppers said. "I feel like I'm the same dude I've always been for 10 years now playing football."

But that’s not exactly true.  Peppers has a lot to prove if this team wants to make a postseason run.  The Panther’s defensive roster looks fresher if not younger, with new faces replacing those names Panther fans knew for years, names like Rucker, Jenkins, and Morgan.

And Peppers also has a lot riding on this year in terms of contract money.  If he goes back to being in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year talks, he will get the money reserved for those game-changing players; if not, well it could cost him millions.

"I've got to focus on playing San Diego right now," Peppers said of Sunday’s season opener. "I can't really be focusing on contracts or what's going to be happening with contracts and what's going to happen after the season or during the season.

“I've got to focus on right now."

For the Panthers, they are focused on the “right now” too, and if Delhomme stays healthy, the upgraded receiving corps gives Steve Smith just a little help, and Julius Peppers plays anything like he did this preseason, the Panthers will be one scary team to face going down the stretch.

Wes Wilson

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