The Journal on Peppers

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November 19, 2001
The Journal on Peppers

Last week, Julius Peppers told a local radio station that he intends to skip his senior season at North Carolina and make himself eligible for the 2002 draft. While there’s been no official announcement, it’s assumed by most, Peppers will indeed be available when all is said and done. And because he’s projected to be a top pick, possibly even the top pick, Texan fans have been doing their homework on Peppers.

So, too, has Bill Cole. Cole is a reporter with the Winston-Salem Journal, and has spent the better part of his fall covering the Tar Heels and, of course, Peppers. Recently, Keith got in touch with Cole via e-mail and asked for a closer, more in-depth look at the Tar Heels’ defensive lineman. Cole’s thoughtful responses follow:

HPF: In a radio interview Thursday, Peppers all but confirmed he intended to forgo his senior season at Carolina — is there anything you can add to the news, in terms of confirmation or denial? Should we take Peppers’ comments as definitive?

Cole: I’m pretty certain Julius is leaving. He could change his mind but he has said since last summer he’s quite certain that he’ll leave. He has maintained all along he wants to be the top pick in the next NFL draft. He’s not just talking in a loose manner.

HPF: Head coach Dom Capers has hinted he’d like to play a 3-4 defensive scheme, which requires a pass rushing outside linebacker. Can Peppers play outside linebacker in the NFL? Does he have LB experience at UNC?

Cole: Julius has played only the defensive line at UNC but I wouldn’t be surprised if he could play a linebacker’s spot in the NFL. He has outstanding overall ability. He was a tailback in high school and the UNC coaches have thought of using him as a tight end in spot situations, although that never happened. He’s quick enough that he could play linebacker, but I would think the defensive line is his best position….

HPF: In your opinion, is Julius Peppers worthy of the first selection in the 2002 draft?

Cole: I thought going into this season that Julius could be the No. 1 draft pick, perhaps easily so, but I’ve changed my mind. He has had some mysterious games. There have been times when he doesn’t seem to be on the field. I try to not be too critical because I know offenses gear much of their blocking on him, but great players have ways of beating tactics.

His promise is enormous, but a team taking him No. 1 will have to refine him and develop him.

HPF: Does Peppers make DT Ryan Sims a better player, or vice versa?

Cole: It’s a mutual payoff to me. Both players are very good. Each helps the other. Sims was doing fairly well before Peppers came along, although Sims did get better once Peppers began playing.

HPF: How was Peppers able to be so dominant at Clemson, yet be seemingly ineffective at Texas and Georgia Tech?

Cole: Why Julius has been so up and down baffles me. I barely noticed him at Texas, except for two plays when he forced Chris Simms to step up in the passing pocket. The important factor is that Texas and Georgia Tech both have good offensive lines. Their players knew how to handle Peppers with the help of double-team blocking. Julius was simply a better athlete than any offensive lineman at Clemson. No Clemson player was quick enough to stick with him.

HPF: Skillwise, where do you see Peppers struggling the most early on in his NFL career?

Cole: Defense against the run might give him problems. At UNC, he’s been able to pass rush just on sheer ability and power, and sacks are how he has made his reputation. The sophisticated blocking in the NFL and the huge, strong linemen could pose problems for him.

HPF: Please describe Peppers off the field.

Cole: He’s very quiet, at least around the media. He doesn’t say much, but has a good sense of humor. He laughs a lot and is very easy-going. It seems that nothing bothers him.

HPF: Has Peppers really given up on his basketball dreams, or will he try to be a two-sport star again someday?

Cole: His love of basketball is very strong. If he doesn’t play at UNC this season — and I’m not sure that he won’t — he will probably be miserable.

Once he reaches the NFL, I would think that he would have to concentrate entirely on football. And he has said that he will. But he’ll be thumping a basketball somewhere on an off day.

HPF: Considering how Peppers gets along with the Tar Heels’ coaching staff, how do you see him working with Texans’ coach Dom Capers?

Cole: I can’t say. I know very little about Dom’s coaching style and don’t feel comfortable to answer. Julius has never been a problem for coaches, so I would think that he would be no problem for Dom Capers.

Bill Cole has worked at the Journal since June 1973. He’s covered the Tar Heels exclusively for the last six years and shared the beat for 12 years prior to that. He has covered eight UNC bowl games and seven NCAA Final Fours in which UNC played.

We want to thank him for helping us out and sharing his insights on Peppers.

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