By Adam Hoge-
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — New Bears head coach Marc Trestman has said a lot of nice things about a lot of his players so far in training camp.
But none of his compliments reached the heights of the one he paid Julius Peppers Thursday.
“We all want to grow up and be like Julius, quite frankly,” Trestman said. “That’s the kind of man I think of him as.”
In the three years Peppers has been in Chicago, no one inside the Bears organization has really had anything bad to say about him. He comes to work every day, leads by example and doesn’t cause any controversy.
And now Trestman is witnessing Peppers’ impact on the Bears — both on and off the field — first hand.
“It’s so impressive it’s hard to describe,” the head coach said after Thursday’s practice. “I mean the way he carries himself around the locker room, through the meetings and certainly on the field. I’ve been watching him since April and it’s just impressive the consistent high level of effort, he’s all over the field, he’s first in line.”
Peppers isn’t exactly the first guy that comes to mind when you think of the leaders in the locker room who can replace the void left behind by Brian Urlacher. That’s mostly because he doesn’t say a whole lot to the media. But the truth is that while he isn’t one of the most vocal players in the NFL, he does carry a louder voice in the Bears’ locker room than most realize and he does most of his talking with the way he carries himself on the field, both in games and practices.
And most importantly, he produces. He’s never missed a game in his three years in Chicago and he’s recorded a total of 30 sacks in that time.
Amazingly, at 33 years old and in his 12th year in the NFL, he’s showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. In fact, Thursday he said he doesn’t feel like he’s getting any older.
“Not at all. I’m serious, I don’t. I feel like I’m 25,” Peppers said. “Age is just a number that people put on players. I mean, it’s real, but it’s really in your heart and your mind how you feel. I feel young in those places.”
Peppers said it hasn’t been any harder to stay in shape during the offseason, but added that he has to do “the right things” as he gets older. And as the age starts to pile up not only for him, but for other veterans on the Bears’ defense, he understands why there will be doubters.
“Yeah, definitely. Because that’s the thing usually when you reach 30. That’s that number that everyone wants to put on you,” Peppers said. “These guys come out and work hard. We all know what we’re doing. I feel like we have the right mix of older guys and younger guys so I don’t think it’s a problem as far as age on this team.”
If Peppers is any indication, it’s not a problem. But not everyone is nicknamed “The Freak Of Nature”, either. So far in training camp, Peppers has looked just like the guy everyone in the NFL has grown accustomed to, getting into the backfield quickly, disrupting practice reps and providing a true test for the Bears’ offensive line, which needs every test it can get.
And he’s still working on improving his craft.
“You never get to the point where you feel like you’re the best or you can’t get any better,” Peppers said. “Everyday you come out and you try to put the work in and try to get better than you were the day before. It’s cliche, but it’s really real.”
And now he has even more motivation with the new Deacon Jones Award, which will go to the player who accumulates the most sacks this season.
“I would love to have it,” he said. “I’m not going to sit out here and make any bold predictions or brash statements about what I’m going to do, but yeah I would love to have it.”
Of course, Peppers’ true motivation is still that elusive Super Bowl and the hunger has grown even stronger after watching the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup again.
“I think about it all time what it would be like,” he said. “I’ve seen the Blackhawks do it. I’ve seen them do it twice since I’ve been here and it’s a great time for the city so we’re going to try. We’re going to put the work in, we’re going to give ourselves a chance and we’re going to try to bring it home.”
All the Bears need is a few more players to grow up and be like Julius.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.