CHARLOTTE – Because he had played the position for 12 years, no one batted an eye when Julius Peppers rejoined the Panthers at defensive end. But, apparently, even future Hall of Famers need lessons.
For Peppers, that's meant dropping habits he picked up as a standup outside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 defense.
"It's two totally different positions," Peppers said Thursday. "So when I got here, it was kind of like getting reacclimated to the position and relearning certain things that go into playing with my hand in the dirt again.
"It's still a process. I'm still learning how to play defensive end again."
In his season debut against the 49ers, Peppers finished with a tackle and half a sack in 26 snaps. The Panthers felt he could have been more disruptive.
"He didn't have a great game," defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. "He's still doing some of the things he did the last three years at Green Bay."
Which is what defensive line coach Eric Washington noticed as soon as he looked at the tape.
"Julius' rush angles were wider than what they needed to be. That helps the offensive tackle in pass protection, and we don't want to help anybody. We want that guy to be under duress every time he's assigned to block Julius Peppers," Washington said. "In order to do that, Julius has to fully understand, and he does, exactly how his alignment, his rush angles and the launch point affect his ability to do that."
Added Peppers, in simpler terms:
"We want tighter rush angles so we want to be a little bit closer to offensive tackle so we can engage faster and attack faster."
So Washington spent last week working with Peppers on angles and alignment. It paid off with a pair of sacks.
"He's an explosive, very dangerous edge pass rusher and he was aligning himself out of being able to do that," Washington said.
"The contrast between what he was doing against the 49ers right tackle and what he did (against the Bills) is stark."
While Peppers will make the Hall of Fame because of his sack total, he's also vitally important against the run. But in a 3-4 defense, he was taught to get wide:
And that's pretty much the opposite of what he needs to do in the Panthers' gap-control defense.
"Everything starts with us coming off the football and attacking the line of scrimmage vertically," Washington said. "When there's movement, we attack the line of scrimmage."
On this play against the 49ers, you can see Peppers come off the ball horizontally, which allowed him to be blocked out of his gap:
A little tinkering with his launch point turned into stops like this against the Bills:
"When you don't do something for three and a half years, you're going to get a little rusty at it," Peppers said. "It's not like a rookie learning how to play the game; it's just I haven't been doing it for a while. So I'm trying to relearn the position."
Through two games, Peppers leads Carolina's defensive linemen with seven tackles and his 2.5 sacks are a team high. Just imagine what the 37-year-old may do once he relearns a thing or two.