Inside the Panthers

Veteran DE Julius Peppers’ role for Panthers? Much more than ‘third-and-88’

Julius Peppers will be more than a third-and-long situational pass rusher for the Carolina Panthers in 2017, the team’s general manager said Friday.
Julius Peppers will be more than a third-and-long situational pass rusher for the Carolina Panthers in 2017, the team’s general manager said Friday. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Julius Peppers will be more than a third-and-long situational pass rusher for the Carolina Panthers in 2017, the team’s general manager said Friday.

Peppers, at age 37, signed a one-year, $3.5-million deal with the Panthers earlier this month. But Dave Gettleman, the team GM, said that while Peppers may or may not start, the former North Carolina star and all-time leading sacker for Carolina will be a solid part of the defensive-line rotation no matter the down and distance.

“It’s not a situation where he’s going to hold Eric’s hand,” said Gettleman, speaking of Panthers defensive-line coach Eric Washington, “and then its third-and-88 and ‘Go, Julius!’ No. he’s going to be part of the rotation.”

That fits with what Peppers has said he wants. Although Peppers still hasn’t had his official “Welcome Home” press conference in Charlotte yet, he told radio station WFNZ that he wants this season to amount to more than an exercise in nostalgia.

“It’s not one of those situations where I’m coming back for a farewell tour,” Peppers said in that interview. “I’m coming back to play, and I’m coming back to try to make some things happen. So my expectation is to be out there and be productive.”

Gettleman is not one to be particularly nostalgic, and he said he signed Peppers because he believes the defensive end who had 7.5 sacks for Green Bay in 2016 can still play.

“He’s unique,” Gettleman said of Peppers. “Physically, he’s just a unique guy. ... A big part of that is obviously DNA, being touched by the hand of the Lord, and the other part is (Peppers is one of the) guys who know how to take care of themselves.”

Gettleman has signed several older players in free agency, including safety Mike Adams, 36. The 66-year-old GM joked that he did it so he could have some players closer to his own age, then turned serious.

“There are some teams that have a philosophy that when a guy hits 30, he’s out,” Gettleman said. “And I think that’s incredibly dangerous. I saw a team really hurt themselves by having that philosophy and really sticking to it. I’m just old-fashioned, I believe in the tape, and I believe in what I see.”

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scott_fowler

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