The Bears offensive line has a tough challenge in facing Packers defender Julius Peppers, a former teammate who is one of the best pass-rushers in NFL history. Facing Peppers, challenging task awaits line
Every defense presents its own set of challenges to an offensive line, from wide-ranging schemes to various strengths and weaknesses in personnel. The Green Bay Packers are no different, playing a unique style of defense that occasionally features two defensive linemen and five linebackers, a system that is unlike anything the Bears' line have blocked against previously this season.
Along with the different looks the Packers will show, the challenge for the front five is increased even more this week. Sunday marks the first game the Bears will play against Julius Peppers since he signed with the Packers in March, just days after being released by Chicago. Peppers is not only familiar with the Bears players and coaches, having spent the last four seasons playing for the team, but he is also a handful for the offensive linemen assigned to block him because of his tremendous size and ability.
"The challenge is that (Peppers) is just an all-around good player. A great player, one that will be in the Hall of Fame someday," said Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod, the man who will be asked to block Peppers for part of Sunday's game. "He plays with great effort, great technique. He just plays strong. He's had a lot of success over the years. It's going to be a challenge for us up front, wherever he lines up to fight and get our job done."
Bushrod has faced Peppers plenty of times before – in four NFL games, mostly when the tackle played for the Saints and the defensive end was with the Carolina Panthers – but also in practice every day last season, when both suited up for the Bears. That familiarity should help Bushord, as he is well acquainted with Peppers and types of things he likes to do to attack quarterbacks.
However, knowledge can only help so much. Since he came into the NFL in 2002, Peppers has lined up across from a lot of veteran blockers with a great mental understanding of what the defender wanted to do. That information hasn't always helped them physically, proven by the 119.5 sacks and 40 forced fumbles in defensive end's career.
Now playing a hybrid end and linebacker in Green Bay's defense, Peppers is doing some new things that the Bears line hasn't seen from him before.
"He is in a whole different system, a whole different scheme," Bushrod said. "He is playing some outside linebacker, so some things he is doing is different. But you know what you're going to get, a guy who is strong, who plays with good leverage, who has good get-off, has good hands. He has the complete package with size and speed. It's going to be a fight." Right tackle Jordan Mills may face Peppers as well come Sunday, depending on where the Packers line him up. He agreed with Bushrod that no matter what position Peppers is at, it's going to take a lot of work to keep him out of the Chicago backfield.
"It was good going up against him in practice, he's one of the best and he does everything from speed to power to great hand work," Mills said. "Taking that from last year in practice to now, knowing that's what he does, (Bushrod and I) are going to use what he did against us in practice and use it to prepare for the game."
In three games this season, Peppers has 10 tackles, including a strip-sack of Detroit's Matthew Stafford last week. The former-Bear is now making his presence felt for the team's fiercest rival in a variety of ways.
"(Peppers) has really fit in great with our guys. Our younger guys really look up to him and he's an excellent football mind," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Schematically and how he fits into our system, he's been a very good fit for us, I'm glad he's here."
Come Sunday, Mills and Bushrod said they will be eager to see their former teammate before the game. Once the whistle blows though, the two Bears blockers will be in for a tough battle facing a player they know so well now lining up across from them.
"It's weird to see him in green and gold, and that he's (jersey number) 56 and not that 90," Mills said. "I'm glad he got a chance to get with another team, but it's about us. Before and after the game it's going to be handshakes and hugs but when that clock starts to run down and the game starts, it's time to get after it."