GREEN BAY – It’s practically a given he’s going to get there. His track record says so.
Entering his 15th NFL season, Packers’ pass rusher Julius Peppers is a mere half-dozen sacks away from cracking the NFL’s all-time top five.
He finished 2015 with 136 career sacks, tying Jared Allen for ninth on the list. In fifth is Michael Strahan at 141½, with Jason Taylor (139½), Richard Dent (137½) and John Randle (137½) in between.
Those are some big names to jump, but while Peppers says he doesn’t give it much thought, count pass-rush partner Clay Matthews among those paying attention to a teammate he calls a “model of consistency.”
“He hasn’t had a 20-sack year, (but) he’s always 10-10-10 ripping them off year after year and now he’s a handful of sacks away from being in the top five and a sure-fire Hall of Famer,” Matthews said. “It’s fun to watch.”
Peppers’ steady production is every bit the marvel his 6-7, 287-pound frame is. With 10½ sacks last season, he reached double digits for the ninth time in his career, and he’s had fewer than seven sacks in a season only once.
With Peppers only six sacks from passing Strahan, the more relevant question for 2016 might be how close he comes to fourth-place Chris Doleman (150 ½) by season’s end.
He may need to catch Doleman eventually in order to stay in the top five long-term. DeMarcus Ware, who came into the NFL three years after Peppers, sits just 1½ sacks behind him at 134½.
The rankings will be entertaining to follow as the season unfolds. Right now, Peppers is doing what he’d tell any fellow player who wants to play as long as has, which is to “enjoy the grind, enjoy the process.”
That approach makes Peppers one of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ most valuable assets because of the example he sets for young players, both now in the teaching phase of OTAs and during the season with game preparation.
“If they say something, you just point to Julius – ‘Watch how he does it,’” Capers said. “Doesn’t miss a practice. One of the hardest workers. He does all the things that you ask him to do from a coaching standpoint, whether it’s in the weight room, on the practice field, in the meeting room, and it shows on Sunday, because it carries over.”
His conditioning routine rarely changes, either. It’s one reason he’s remarkably missed only two games to injury in 14 seasons.
He gives himself just one month of downtime now in the offseason instead of two or three, but it helps that he enjoys running. It’s a strange sight given the size differential, but in team settings he actually prefers to run with the defensive backs. He began challenging himself that way in college and has continued ever since.
“Whenever I have a chance to push myself and use one of those guys as a rabbit, I try to jump in there with them and see if I can keep up,” he said.
“I feel like I’m one of these young guys, most days. Some days I get up and I feel like an old man, but for the most part, I still feel pretty good.”
As for how long he plans to continue playing, Peppers said that’ll be based on his passion for the game. He’s never won a Super Bowl and hasn’t been to one since his second season, so that motivation is obvious. He’s in the final year of a three-year contract he signed with the Packers back in 2014, but he seems content to address the future when it comes.
He views the all-time sack list the same way. It’s to be considered down the road, but not right now. There’s a grind to enjoy, and rabbits to chase.
“One day it’ll mean something, but while I’m playing, I’m still trying to climb the list,” Peppers said. “I’m still trying to get a couple more sacks. Maybe one day when I retire, I’ll look back and say that’s cool, but right now, I’m still working.”
NFL’s all-time sack leaders
1. Bruce Smith, 200
2. Reggie White, 198
3. Kevin Greene, 160
4. Chris Doleman, 150½
5. Michael Strahan, 141½
6. Jason Taylor, 139½
7t. Richard Dent, 137½
7t. John Randle, 137½
9t. Julius Peppers, 136*
9t. Jared Allen, 136
11. DeMarcus Ware, 134½*
12. John Abraham, 133½
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