Bears' Peppers: I'm ready for the pressure

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Julius Peppers, right, signs autographs for fans during Bears camp Friday in Bourbonnais.

    Julius Peppers, right, signs autographs for fans during Bears camp Friday in Bourbonnais. Associated Press

 
 
Posted7/31/2010 12:01 AM

You can't talk to any defensive players on the Bears for very long without hearing them mention end Julius Peppers, the biggest catch in this year's free-agent fishing derby.

Unlike the average fan, professional athletes aren't inclined to look at a teammate as "the savior," and Bears players don't think of the 6-foot-7, 283-pound Peppers that way, even though he's had more than 10 sacks in six of his eight NFL seasons. But they do realize that the five-time Pro Bowler is a difference maker who can elevate a good defense to a great one. The feeling goes all the way back to the secondary, where pass-rush pressure from Peppers can help that group get more of the interceptions that were lacking last season.

 

"I think the attitude is that we got big nine-zero (up) there, so he's going to help us out a lot," said cornerback Charles Tillman, whose 2 interceptions last season were his fewest in five years. "And with Mark Anderson, I'm confident with the pass rush that they're going to get."

Safety Chris Harris, back for his second tour of duty with the Bears after spending the past three seasons playing with Peppers in Carolina, knows better than any Bear what to expect.

"I've had a chance to see him up close and personal for three years, so I know the talent that he has and what he's capable of doing," Harris said. "I know what he'll bring to this defense."

Peppers doesn't seem burdened in the least by the great expectations that have come with his 81 career sacks and a six-year contract that could be worth as much as $91.5 million, even when it's his teammates.

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"It's only normal," Peppers said. "I'm the new guy. I came here with a lot of hype, so it's normal for them to mention me first because there was so much attention placed on me being here. But it's a role that I've always had, being one of the more popular players on the team, so I'm used to it.

"But we still have to go out and perform. Just because I'm here doesn't really mean anything. I have to go out and perform just as well as those other guys."

Actually, Peppers is expected to perform much better than most other guys, but with 25 sacks in the past two seasons, that's an attainable goal. That difference-making ability won't manifest itself until the regular season gets under way, but Peppers has already brought something extra to the Bears.

"I couldn't have asked for anything more from him," coach Lovie Smith said. "Not just as a football player but moving into a leadership role fairly quickly with our team."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But much more is expected from Peppers besides a strong work ethic and leadership.

"When you have a dominant player like that, (the offense) will have to keep backs or tight ends in to chip guys (on pass plays)," Smith said. "If you have a dominant player, it's a trickle-down effect. Somebody eventually will get the one-on-ones that you want. We feel like we can get Julius and Tommie (Harris) in some positions where they're one-on-one and we think they're going to win most of those battles. It's not just Tommie and Julius, even though they're going to lead the group. In order for us to be a dominant defense, our defensive line has to play up to their potential."

That's just fine with Peppers. He'll take the responsibility and carry it on his broad shoulders.

"It's something I've dealt with my whole life really, so it's nothing new," he said. "I relish the role, and I'm sure that I can live up to all the expectations and do what's expected."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

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