Tom Sorensen

Here’s how you can really know what makes Julius Peppers tick

Wonder how Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers (90) still gets it done in his 16th season? Just watch him.
Wonder how Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers (90) still gets it done in his 16th season? Just watch him.

Although it was 15 years ago, I remember the first time I stood next to Julius Peppers. I’d interviewed other defensive linemen, but none of them looked like Peppers. He was 6-7, weighed about 280 pounds and had the body fat of a cornerback.

The interview wasn’t much. Some athletes harness their time and offer it only to representatives from networks or national websites. Peppers is consistent. While courteous, he rarely offers extensive interviews to anybody in the media. You sense he’d like to disappear, which is tough for a Hall of Fame football player who is 6-7.

Standing next to him offered more insight than listening did. I thought: How can a human being block him? Along with being big and strong, he was athletic enough to play basketball for North Carolina.

Peppers is 37, and to look at him now is to wonder how a human being can block him. So far this season, a human being can’t. A part-time player, Peppers ranks fifth in the league with 4 1/2 sacks. In Carolina’s 33-30 victory Sunday against New England, Peppers spent so much time in the Patriots’ backfield it was as if he’d been invited.

Tom Brady, meet Julius Peppers.

Tom Brady, meet Julius Peppers.

Tom Brady, meet – you know the drill. Hey, together you guys are 77-years-old.

The Panthers took Peppers second in the 2002 draft. They should have. None of the other players selected in the top 10 are still in the league.

Walk through the Panthers locker room in 2002 and you’d encounter lineman Todd Steussie and punter Todd Sauerbrun, quarterbacks Chris Weinke and Rodney Peete, linebacker Dan Morgan, tight end Wesley Walls and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who now coaches the Oakland Raiders.

It was a different time. Yet Peppers is still here.

The season is his 16th in the NFL, and in nine seasons he has sacked quarterbacks at least 10 times. Some of us, many of us, most of us, used to wonder if he gave what he had on every play.

But could you assemble a resume such as his if you didn’t? Because of his height, weight and speed, Peppers looks as if he was designed to play defensive end, and therefore getting to the quarterback should be easy. It’s not. It’s not easy for anybody. For Peppers, it only looks that way.

Someday somebody probably will write his biography. There won’t be many quotes.

If you really want to know who he is, watch him on Sunday afternoons.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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