Carolina Panthers

Is he the one?

SPARTANBURG -- The way Julius Peppers sees it, he's been a leader for years. To him, that has nothing to do with talking.

The Carolina Panthers' defensive end spoke to reporters Monday for the first time of training camp and since owner Jerry Richardson and retiring icon Mike Minter challenged him to take over the defense last week.

"I'm fine with it," Peppers replied. "I've been a leader my whole time here. Just going out and working hard every day."

Those looking for an extended discourse on his theories of management were looking in the wrong place. You weren't going to get Sun Tzu or Tony Robbins, as Peppers answered questions as he usually does -- briefly and softly. There's no bombast and very little apparent desire to participate in modern media.

So while Minter was known for his accessibility as much as his accountability, Peppers simply wants to do his business differently.

"I mean, I don't think he meant to say, 'You're the leader of this team, just one guy,'" Peppers said. "There are other leaders on this team, a lot of other cats on this team that can step up and do that. I really don't think it's fair for people to place that burden on me by myself."

When asked what he thought Richardson was driving at, Peppers replied, "Just to step up and be one of those guys. Not just the guy. Just one of those guys."

The guys who know him best and longest assure the rest there's far more to Peppers than meets the eye -- and that's how he wants it.

Panthers radio play-by-play man Mick Mixon has known Peppers since his freshman year at North Carolina, when Mixon was still doing radio for the Tar Heels.

"Julius is a fascinating, layered person," Mixon said. "He's very bright, and he's probably read more in the last year than me and you together. The allure with Julius is that he's a larger person. There's so much more there than an elite athlete with tremendous physical gifts.

"He doles out his trust pretty cautiously, and those who know him best know a different person than we do."

Defensive end Mike Rucker (who Peppers referred to as one of his role models, along with Minter) said when the media's gone, Peppers is like most players. Maybe a little quieter, but not so much as to seem out of the ordinary.

"I just think it's different styles," Rucker said. "His style fits him. I think everyone knows his style, so it's not a shock that he's not hooting and hollering.

"Also, when he does talk, it means more because of his demeanor. When he does talk it kind of hits you a little bit."

The difference between frequent appearances in the newspaper or on TV and his stature in the locker room seems to be a big thing for Peppers, who alluded to past teammates who were more vocal.

"We've had those kind of guys in the past, that you guys would talk to, but in the locker room, some of those guys didn't really have a lot of respect," Peppers said. "Guys can talk, but really don't back it up. I'd just rather let my actions speak for me."

He was asked if he'd be more out front now that Minter's gone and Rucker's on the downside of his career.

"We need guys to step up and be a little more vocal," he replied. "That doesn't mean coming out here talking to you guys. Not that I have a problem with that, but that's not what that means.

"Maybe pulling the young guys to the side, encouraging them to study a little more or watch a little more film. I think that's a leader."

No one in the organization has a problem with his plan. When asked last week about Richardson's comments, coach John Fox downplayed them.

"I really want Julius to be Julius," Fox said. "I have no complaints with him."

Likewise, Rucker said Peppers is doing the small things few see. Monday, it was leading players through a drill and setting the right tone. Peppers said he's done "a little bit" more in terms of shepherding younger players.

Rucker said part of his withdrawal from the spotlight stems from his place as a local hero, who grew up, became a prep phenom, went to college and played his NFL career in one state.

"I mean, that's a lot going on," Rucker said. "I just think he's more reserved and doesn't necessarily want to be that guy that's always out front. A lot of times in the professional atmosphere you see guys that want the limelight, that want the cameras, want the microphones. He's not that guy. He doesn't need all of that to make him tick.

"That's what's special about him, is that you don't find too many people that are like that. A lot of times they want to be out front, leading the way. He leads in a different way. But he doesn't need all the cameras and lights to be productive."

• Who: Panthers (1-0) at Philadelphia (0-1)

• When: 7 p.m. Friday

• Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

• TV: FOX (cable channel 11 in Rock Hill)

• Radio: WBT (1110 AM)

• Notebook, daily digest • 3C

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