By Jordan Huenink
The last time Ted Thompson signed a noteworth, defensive free agent, he landed Charles Woodson. That was 2006. Saturday’s signing of Julius Peppers means another fresh, veteran face in Green Bay’s 3-4 defensive scheme going into 2014. But what will be his role?
With the addition of Peppers, the Packers’ defensive line is probably the most athletic group that defensive coordinator Dom Capers has had at his disposal since he joined the Packers in 2009. With B.J. Raji, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, and now Peppers, Capers will be able to throw many different personnel packages at opposing offensive lines, rotate players around to ensure fresh bodies for four quarters, and hopefully keep injuries to a minimum.
While Peppers is primarily a defensive end, his basketball athleticism and size (6’7″, 287 lbs.) could make him an interesting outside linebacker as well. This should definitely benefit Clay Matthews, who will still most likely be the one drawing double-team coverage. And could you imagine them both lining up on the same side?
Adding Peppers into the outside linebacker mix could also model the four-man style that was effective for the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks this year. A deep rotation could provide constant pressure on the quarterbacks (a little Peppers-on-Cutler action, anyone?) and keep the likes of Matthews and Nick Perry off injured reserve and on the field.
Coach Mike McCarthy has also recently talked about the team’s desire to use an “elephant end” position with hybrid players like Mike Neal and Nick Perry who can play either defensive end or linebacker. This position, also called a “tweener,” would cover both of those spots and line up on the “C-gap” between the tackle and tight end rather than the “B-Gap” between the guard and tackle. While it’s possible that Peppers could fit into this role, it could be more likely that he stays at defensive end.
No matter where he lines up, it looks like Julius Peppers will be a positive addition to the defensive front, Although he had a down year last season in Chicago, a change of scenery may be just what the 34-year old needs, and perhaps just the boost the Packers need on defense.