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Julius Peppers now an elder statesman for the Packers, eager to kick off season vs Bears


GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — Older, wiser — definitely more experienced — is looking forward to his 14th NFL season.

At 35, Peppers will be the oldest player on the field when the Packers visit the Chicago Bears in the longtime rivals' season opener Sunday.

He considers that an honor.

"I'm fortunate to be out here with all of these young guys, (so) I don't mind it," the pass-rush specialist said Friday. "In my eyes, it's a good thing."

This weekend's game also is the Chicago coaching debut for , who has great familiarity with Peppers. With Fox in his first year as their coach in 2002, the Carolina Panthers selected former North Carolina standout Peppers with the No. 2 pick in the draft.

"Somebody sent me a picture the day we drafted him," Fox said this week. "I know I barely recognize myself, (but) he looks pretty much the same. The guy's taken great care of himself. Anybody with longevity in this league does."

Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac also was on Carolina's coaching staff when Peppers entered the NFL.

Trgovac, who was the Panthers' defensive line coach in 2002 before taking over as their defensive coordinator, remembers what set the 6-foot-7 Peppers apart early in his career as a formidable defensive end.

"He had really freakish athletic ability, the flexibility, stuff like that," Trgovac said.

Peppers was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading Carolina with 12 sacks. Not much has changed 13 years later.

Peppers' superb career has included 125 ½ sacks, 43 forced fumbles, 11 interceptions and five touchdown returns.

"He can definitely create havoc, for sure," Fox said.

Fox saw the devastation caused by Peppers in eight years with the Panthers, who reached the Super Bowl in the 2003 season.

"He's a guy that you'd better know where he is," Fox said. "I've watched him jump up and pick the ball right out of the sky on kind of quick screens, so I'm definitely a fan of his ability and I think our people (with the Bears) understand that."

Even with a new regime in Chicago, Peppers' reputation there goes back a few years. Peppers joined the Bears as a free agent in 2010 and stayed productive, helping Chicago get to the NFC championship game his first season, where it lost to the visiting Packers.

When Peppers returns to Soldier Field on Sunday, wearing a Green Bay uniform for a second season after his release from the Bears, the expectations for how he plays remain high.

Peppers' production didn't suffer with a position switch from defensive line to outside linebacker upon arriving in Green Bay. He had seven sacks, forced four fumbles and returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns.

"It was fun to try to recapture some of the splash plays and things of that sort," Peppers said.

Coach praised Peppers, as both a prolific player and a captivating leader, for having the biggest impact on the team in a season that had a bittersweet ending for its oldest player.

His 35th birthday came on the same day the Packers suffered the stunning overtime loss at Seattle in the NFC title game.

"I still feel young," Peppers said. "I think it's just being around these young guys in here that are making me feel that way. The energy and the vibe in this locker room makes me feel that way."

Notes: WR is probable to play Sunday. Cobb has practiced on a limited basis this week after returning from a shoulder injury. The starting defensive duo of S (calf) and LB (ankle) are questionable. Burnett hasn't been able to practice this week.

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