Veterans Peppers and Raji back to fortify Packers D

June 3, 2015

           

In 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 the years.

"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 preseason game.

If things go as the Packers hope, they will get to play together on the same defense in 2015.

"It feels 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 game."

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.

          

In 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 Packers defense.

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 interceptions.

Peppers displayed bursts of athleticism. At age 35, the veteran knows how to pace himself.

"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 details.

"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."

 












 

Associated Press