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Julius Peppers Might Take Some Plays Off, But So Would You

by Ricky O'Donnell on March 9, 2010 at 3:00PM

One would think that something as perplexing and extraordinary as the Bears signing a free agent to a $90+ million contract would have caused this football crazy city to explode.

That really wasn't the case.

Fans were excited, I'm sure, but also weary: Cutler-mania jaded us all. It's the reason we're not hearing the same "Super Bears, Super Bowl" chants this spring as last. The hype machine couldn't have been bigger for Cutler, and the letdown couldn't have been more devastating. As such, the city's football optimism seems a bit more guarded than last time around.

There are two other reasons Chicago hasn't latched on to Julius Peppers the same way it did Cutler:

a) Cutler is a quarterback. I don't think I need to explain any further.

b) Peppers has a bit of a reputation for not taking full advantage of all of his physical gifts. Some say he's got a little Randy Moss in him. He may take some plays off.

"Eating the Dinosaur", the latest book from Chuck Klosterman, features an essay on college-basketball-behemoth-turned-NBA-bust Ralph Sampson. Klosterman's theory is that Americans took joy in Sampson's NBA failures because it made them feel better about themselves: we'd all like to think that if we had the gifts of Ralph Sampson, we'd own the work ethic, toughness, and determination to turn ourselves into a Hall of Fame NBA center. We would get every ounce of talent out of that agile, 7'4 body.

Perhaps the skepticism the Peppers signing generated conveyed a similar feeling.

You look at Julius Peppers and you see one of the best athletes alive. He fits my LeBron Theory.

From my October NBA preview:

Every time I watch LeBron, I feel as if he could be the greatest athlete in the world at any sport. Best boxer in the world. Best NFL wide receiver. An All-Pro defensive end. A ball-hawking free safety. The greatest soccer goalie the world has ever seen. He could probably pick any Olympic sport and dominate that, too. Not out of the blue, of course. I mean if chose these sports over basketball when he was younger and worked his whole life at them. The man is just incredible.
Peppers gifts - or, excuse me, "features" - lets one's imagination run wild the same way.

Which is to say: if Peppers could own any sport on Earth, why has he only been in the teens in sacks twice in eight seasons?

This comes back to the above point b: the guy takes plays off. He has to, right? Someone that big, that fast, that agile, and that strong shouldn't merely produce All-Pro seasons, he should produce true dominance. One would think if Julius Peppers had the mind-set of your average blue collar, beer drinking, Chicago male, he'd be one of the most statistically accomplished football players ever. He'd probably average 30 sacks a year, if not 75. 

The blue collar line of thinking is ridiculous, of course. You, average Chicago male, almost certainly would not care more about football greatness if you were Julius Peppers than Julius Peppers currently does. You'd probably act the exact same way, given similar circumstances. Besides, it's impossible for nearly any pro athlete to give it 100 percent 100 percent of the time. Peppers admitted as much at his introductory Bears press conference.

"I feel like that one thing about me taking plays off, somebody said that when I was playing in college and it's followed me throughout my career," he said. "If we had the film on and we were watching it and you wanted to pick one person out that was taking a play off on a particular play, you could pick anybody. It's not only me. I'm not the only one who's doing it, but I'm the only one who people are saying it about. I mean sometimes when you're on the field you get tired. If I'm not playing as hard on play 66 as I was on play No. 1, then come on."
This is actually a great answer to a question about his work ethic, but it probably isn't a great answer to give to the media. It's too honest. I can see people reading this quote and thinking "Features" is a bum.

Thankfully, smarter humans, like Football Outsiders' K.C. Joyner, exist.

You may remember Joyner as the man who compared Cutler to Rex Grossman last offseason. He got drilled in Chicago by media and fans, but 26 interceptions later, I'd say Joyner is vindicated.  

Joyner's latest study involves Peppers' effort. His conclusion (via the Trib's Brad Biggs):

"What I don't understand is why Peppers isn't given a bit more leeway than this. For years, Peppers was one of the hardest working defensive linemen in the league and that didn't change last season.

"What did change is that Peppers had an offseason illness that caused him to lose a lot of weight. That very well may have been why he lacked energy but instead of leaning on that explanation, many have jumped to the conclusion that he suddenly turned into another overpaid, lazy athlete. All I can say to this is that most of the time, hard working players don't suddenly become lazy."

Joyner notes that Peppers rebounded to make 9 ½ one-on-one sacks, which he defines as sacks in which a rusher must defeat his blocker and sack the quarterback in less than three seconds. Peppers had seven in less than 2.7 seconds.

The conclusion by Joyner? The Bears didn't roll the dice on a player who gives effort when he wants to and takes time off on occasion. Does he have a Jared Allen motor? Maybe not. Who does? Did they pay a bum? No.

Julius Peppers is no different than nearly all professional athletes. He wouldn't be any different from you if you were a 6'7, 275 lb. defensive end with an astonishingly quick 40 time.

What I'm saying is that Peppers should have our full support. If you're still left jaded from the Cutler fiasco, fine. But don't think Julius Peppers will rest now that he has a $91 million contract.

3 Comments | Leave a comment

Great post, and I agree with your main point.

I haven't read Klosterman's book, but anyone calling Sampson a bust isn't really being fair. He won the rookie of the year and was a 4-time all star by the time he was 26. Then his knees went to shit. Those things happen to 7-4 athletes from time to time.

I'd also like to add, and maybe this goes hand in hand with the Jay Cutler is a QB point, but c) the Bears displayed so many holes last year, that even the most optimistic fan knows that one DE doesn't fix everything.

That's a good point C.

I believe Klosterman said the perception of Sampson was that he was an NBA bust, but he does defend him by citing a lot of the things you mentioned.

Just read this in the Trib about the recently departed Kevin Jones:

"Jones initially signed a one-year, $605,000 contract with the Bears. Then before the '09 season, he signed a two-year contract worth $3.5 million, including a $1 million bonus and $2 million in the first season."

Jones racked up an awesome 109 yards in 34 carries during his two year stint with the Bears. If the above figures are correct, he earned approx. $33,000 a yard or $106,000 every time he carried the ball.

Nice work, if you can get it.

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