this January, 2013 file photo, Green Bay Packers nose tackle B.J.
Raji (90) celebrates after an NFL wild card playoff football
game against the Minnesota Vikings in Green Bay, Wis. Veterans
Julius Peppers and Raji are back to fortify the Packers defense.
GREEN BAY — Two of
the most respected veterans on Green Bay's defense are separated by
just a couple stalls in the locker room.
Julius Peppers and
B.J. Raji feel as if they have a lot left to accomplish despite all
the hits they have administered, and all blocks they have shed over
"I think I can
speak for everybody in here — it's all about winning," Peppers
said while Raji held court nearby with another group of reporters.
"That's all we want to do."
Peppers is going into
his 14th year in the league. Raji is entering his seventh — though
the tackle missed the 2014 season after tearing his right biceps in a
If things go as the
Packers hope, they will get to play together on the same defense in
great," Raji said about returning. "I think being a part of
it again is giving me a new appreciation and a new love for the
And maybe a boost for
the Packers when it comes to stopping the run.
That was a trouble
spot last year until Green Bay shifted Clay Matthews more to inside
linebacker at midseason to slow down opposing backs. Matthews was a
still a threat rushing the passer, with 8 1/2 of his 11 sacks coming
after the move.
this November, 2014 file photo, Green Bay Packers' Julius
Peppers gets away from Philadelphia Eagles' Jordan Matthews (81)
after intercepting a pass and running it back for a touchdown
during the second half of an NFL football game in Green Bay,
Wis. Veterans Peppers and B.J. Raji are back to fortify the
Still, Matthews' main
job was to rush the passer. The addition of another sack-master in
Peppers was supposed to frustrate opposing offensive lines.
For his part, Peppers
adjusted just fine to some new responsibilities playing a hybrid
outside linebacker role. He finished with seven sacks and two
bursts of athleticism. At age 35, the veteran knows how to pace
"Just take time
off when I feel like I need to, not beating the body up as much,"
Peppers said. "Just learning to listen to my body when it needs
rest because I think sometimes that's more important than
conditioning, just getting the proper rest."
Raji had too much
rest last season after being forced to sit out because of an injury
before a contract year. He had looked rejuvenated in a return to nose
tackle before he got hurt.
Raji ended up
re-signing with the Packers this offseason.
Listed at 6-foot-2,
337 pounds, Raji has the classic frame of a run-stuffer. But as he
gets older — Raji turns 29 in July — he realizes more that he
needs to make adjustments.
"I would (say)
it was never an issue with confidence. I think sometimes you can be
overconfident," Raji said.
He sought a workout
regimen to get more flexible. He made it a point to pay attention to
"I feel like as
a player, a lot of times, you get some years in your career, sometimes
you feel that (you) know it all or something like that," Raji
said. "I think the humility and being able to take coaching has
helped me a lot too."
The Packers have the
makings of an effective duo up the middle with tackle Letroy Guion
also re-signing in the offseason. With Matthews expected back at
inside linebacker, maybe Green Bay will play better against the run
from the start of the season.
Stopping the run
means forcing opponents into more second- and third-and-long
situations, which conversely could give Peppers better opportunities
to tee off on quarterbacks.
Raji, for one,
doesn't think Peppers is slowing down.
"No, Pep (with)
his movement skills, his conditioning, his savvy, his
experience," Raji said, "it's just hard to count him out
with all those things clicking."