It’s really hard to find out what Julius Peppers is doing. Maybe the most dominant defensive player in football between 2000 and 2010, he’s also, of course, famously soft-spoken, leaving the Carolina Panthers near the prime of his career simply because he wanted to avoid the spotlight that came with being from North Carolina, having starred at North Carolina like few others before him, and then being drafted by Carolina. Any bridges that were damaged from that have been repaired, thankfully, as Pep returned home for a two-year stint and is now, in what is the only piece of information we really had about him post retirement, “Special assistant of business operations” for the Panthers. It’s not really clear what that entails, but it doesn’t sound like he is doing much on the football side of things for Carolina.
Well, yesterday, we got perhaps the first concrete indication of something that the former Tar Heel great will be doing with his newly found free time:
Texans franchise player Jadeveon Clowney @JDClowney is participating in Julius Peppers' first annual pass rush camp this week in Miami along with pass rushing coaches Chuck Smith @chucksmithnfl @FeetHipsHands and Robert Mathis, Gerald McCoy, Da'Shawn Hand, etc.— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) July 10, 2019
Retired players and/or coaches, and even active ones such as Lane Johnson and Von Miller, holding positional camps like this isn’t exactly uncommon in the offseason, but it’s at least notable, and it’s pretty cool to see Peppers, who once shied away from leadership, taking on this kind of role for NFL veterans and young guys. My favorite thing about the short list of guys in that tweet is its range of ages. Mathis is retired, McCoy has been in the league for nearly a decade, Clowney is entering his sixth year; all three of them have garnered enormous respect in the NFL as among the premier players at their positions. And then there’s Da’Shawn Hand, who’s played one season professionally, was a second-round pick, and didn’t get a ton of press last year despite a very good rookie season. It’s clear that Peppers is using his eye for talent and technique, and not simply going on reputation, and through this, giving young guys a chance. In a league that’s often run by nepotism and unfair competition, that’s a genuinely refreshing sight.
Peppers has also been more visible around UNC in the past few months than he had been previously, notably helping Mack Brown’s staff with a couple of defensive line recruits like Des Evans, who wants to be able to play basketball in college like Peppers did. It’s a stretch to think these two developments are related, but it’s just another example, after what we’ve seen of Vince Carter, of a Tar Heel great turning towards service in their later years (in sports terms, of course). Hopefully, Pep’s camp goes smoothly and becomes an offseason staple for several years to come.