GREEN BAY—Aaron Rodgers is fine if Julius Peppers grabs the microphone, so to speak.
The two most experienced players on the Packers’ roster are among the team’s six captains for the rest of the season, and the quarterback joked a little on Wednesday about his occasional reluctance to have all eyes in the locker room on him for those pep-talk moments.
“I’m not a big rah-rah speech guy,” Rodgers said. “Hopefully Julius will take over that role.”
All kidding aside, it’s a role Peppers appears to have fallen into anyway after his Chicago pre-game speech back on Nov. 9, to which several players continually refer.
“It’s great to hear him talk,” Rodgers said. “He has some great insight and great ideas. He’s a man of few words, but they’re pointed words and they’re words that everybody listens to.”
Whether Peppers takes that bull by the horns or not beginning with Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay, the idea to declare team captains now came from Head Coach Mike McCarthy.
Normally the Packers select three captains each week throughout the season and then, if they make the playoffs, elect six to serve as captains for the duration of the postseason.
Coming off a frustrating loss in Buffalo and in order to establish a “playoff mindset” he wants to see from the team now, McCarthy had the players elect six mates to serve as captains from here on out, however long the season lasts.
The six are Rodgers and Jordy Nelson on offense, Peppers and Morgan Burnett on defense, and Randall Cobb and Jarrett Bush on special teams.
“It’s that time of the year you want guys to emphasize having that sense of urgency and leading,” Peppers said. “It’s the playoff time of the year, but we’re not assuming we’ve already made it (into the playoffs).”
The assumption, though, is that this team should make it, so it’s time to play like it. There’s no better way to move on from the Packers’ roughest outing in nearly three full months.
“He likes to kind of ooze confidence out of himself,” Rodgers said of McCarthy. “It’s a toughness from his Pittsburgh roots, but it’s a confidence that he trusts the guys that we’re going to get it done. This ups the urgency.”
The election of Peppers – the only one of the six captains to have spent less than four seasons in Green Bay – speaks to the respect he had from the day he walked in as a free agent last spring.
McCarthy said Peppers was quiet at first, simply showing by his daily work ethic what it takes to be a successful pro. Then he began having one-on-one conversations with teammates to share some veteran wisdom, and McCarthy referenced one such chat with second-year left tackle David Bakhtiari, who faced Peppers twice last season in the Chicago games.
Eventually he delivered the much-talked-about pre-game speech before the Sunday night game vs. the Bears right after the bye, a blowout win that kick-started the Packers’ five-game winning streak.
“The presence that he carries, you could see it very early,” McCarthy said. “He’s not very flamboyant, but the one time he got the opportunity to speak to the team, everybody got a clear look inside at what Julius Peppers was all about.”
A player’s performance always carries more weight in the locker room, though, and there’s no denying the on-field Peppers has been quiet of late.
After a run of 3½ sacks over a span of three games, he hasn’t had one since the Chicago game. His last big play came the week after that against Philadelphia, when he returned an interception for a touchdown for the second time this season.
Last Sunday may have foreshadowed a late-season breakthough, however. It was Peppers who knocked the ball out of Buffalo running back Boobie Dixon’s hands late in the fourth quarter, and had the Packers been able to recover the fumble, Peppers would have been credited with a game-changing play.
That would have spoken louder than any words he could have delivered.
“If I’m called upon in the coming weeks, that’s fine with me,” Peppers said of talking to the team. “Responsibilities come with being a leader on this team and being a captain. Sometimes giving a speech is one of them. If it happens, I’m fine with it.”
Apparently, so is Rodgers.
“I just hope Julius is ready for some talks,” he said.
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