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Julius Peppers: more than just sacks appeal

Michael Bush  Julius Peppers

Michael Bush, Julius Peppers

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Updated: January 3, 2012 10:39AM

Julius Peppers came to Chicago with the reputation as a Pro Bowl defensive end who didn’t do much when he wasn’t sacking the quarterback — a flaw that supposedly would be exposed in a media-intense market like Chicago.

But the scrutiny of playing for one of the founding franchises in the NFL has only enhanced the appreciation for the all-around skills of the 6-7, 287-pound Peppers. Last year he had only eight sacks, but still made the All-Pro team — he was the first defensive end to be All-Pro without double-digit sacks since quarterback sacks became an official league statistic in 1982.

As it turns out, Peppers makes plays not only by sacking the quarterback, but by forcing bad throws that get intercepted, by tipping balls at the line of scrimmage and intercepting them himself, by containing running backs and funneling them into Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, by occupying two and three blockers and by not giving up on plays that get by him. The news Thursday wasn’t that Briggs called him ‘‘a monster.’’ It’s that he also called him ‘‘a max-effort guy.’’

With eight sacks in 11 games, Peppers is tied for 11th in the NFL — tied for sixth among defensive ends. He’s on a pace for 11 or 12, which would be the seventh time in 10 NFL seasons he’s had 10 or more.

‘‘I can’t say enough about him,’’ teammate Israel Idonije said. ‘‘I think it starts with his character — who he is off the field and what he brings as a leader and his work by example. It correlates directly to performance. Focus, every snap — 100 percent.’’

And most importantly, Peppers is playing his best in the second half of the season. He had two sacks, a tackle-for-loss and five quarterback pressures against the Raiders on Sunday. Peppers was honored by the league as the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in November, with four sacks and 11 pressures in four games.

‘‘It was well-deserved,’’ Urlacher said. ‘‘Last week, every single play he was dominating whoever was against him. It’s nice to see people taking notice of what he’s been doing. Sacks haven’t been a huge number, [but] he gets double-teamed, you see what happens. Last week he just dominated those guys.’’

Peppers, who has 41 quarterback pressure this season, said having leaders like Urlacher and Briggs setting a high standard has helped motivate him to be as good as he can be in every game.

‘‘I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform,’’ said Peppers, who has 97 career sacks, ‘‘and with the help of these guys holding me accountable, it’s easy to come to work every day, to have coaches motivate you, guys in the locker room that expect a certain level of play from you, so you come to accept the fact and get the job done.’’

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