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Veteran Julius Peppers feels like a spry young guy

Bears' Julius Peppers Bears' defense during training camp Friday morning Bourbonnais. | Michael R. Schmidt~ For Sun-Times Media

Bears' Julius Peppers and the Bears' defense during training camp Friday morning in Bourbonnais. | Michael R. Schmidt~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 3, 2013 7:47AM

BOURBONNAIS — Julius Peppers isn’t getting older. He’s getting . . . younger?

‘‘I feel like I’m 25,’’ the Bears’ Pro Bowl defensive end said Thursday. ‘‘Age is just a number that gets put on players. It’s real, but it’s really in your heart and your mind how you feel. I feel young in those places, and I think it’s showing.’’

It’s definitely showing in training camp, where Peppers, 33, looks spry and as fluid as ever in beating offensive linemen with regularity in practice. In a transition year under first-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the Bears are counting on Peppers avoiding the inevitable downturn. Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton aren’t ready to assume his role yet.

Peppers didn’t show any age last season. He had 111/2 sacks, four tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries and a forced fumble and made the Pro Bowl for the eighth time in his 11-year career and third time in three seasons with the Bears. Peppers had more sacks and tackles for loss at 32 than he did at 25.

But as Bears fans have discovered since the team signed him to a six-year, $91.5 million contract as a free agent in 2010, Peppers’ value goes beyond the numbers. He ­influences run defense, makes ­hustle plays as well as game-turning plays and makes his teammates better.

He came with a reputation for taking plays off, but if he does, it has been overshadowed by his overall excellence. The only real knock on Peppers is that he hasn’t had 20-plus sacks in a season, as the Vikings’ Jared Allen in 2011 (22) or the Texans’ J.J. Watt (201/2) last season. They get double-teamed, too.

But Peppers produces in other ways.

‘‘It’s so impressive, it’s hard to describe,’’ coach Marc Trestman said. ‘‘The way he carries himself around the locker room, through the meetings and certainly on the field . . . [it’s] just impressive, the consistent high level of effort. He’s all over the field. He’s first in line. We all want to grow up and be like Julius. That’s the kind of man I think of him as.’’

While Peppers said he feels younger, he knows he’s only ­getting older and has accounted for that in his offseason preparation. He has played in 178 of 180 games since his first NFL game with the Panthers in 2002.

‘‘Once your body starts to [decline] physically, you have to put the work in. I’m doing that,’’ he said.

‘‘I wouldn’t say it’s any harder. I’m just doing the right things to get my recovery and working on the right things.’’

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