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Carolina’s Peppers says team will share leadership

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Julius Peppers runs around the field with the ease of a receiver, cutting and slashing his way to the quarterback with speed and strength.
Off the field, the Carolina Panthers defensive end is much less visible, often walking around alone, headphones on and a backpack strapped to his back.
And even after owner Jerry Richardson last week challenged him to become the leader of the defense, the shy Peppers doesn’t plan on any big changes.
Peppers clearly doesn’t like the spotlight. He looked uncomfortable and spoke softly to reporters Monday. While he is always the first defensive lineman to go through a drill, the three-time Pro Bowl pick rarely talks during practice.
Richardson, who soon may sign off on making Peppers one of the game’s highest-paid defensive players, wants him to assume the role of defensive leader after the retirement of veteran safety Mike Minter last week.
But Peppers shrugged off the comments, indicating fans and reporters blew them out of proportion.
If he chose to become vocal, the 6-foot-7, 283-pound Peppers would have the credentials to back up his words. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft, the Bailey, N.C. native is one of the game’s most dominant defensive ends.
His 53 1/2 sacks are a team record. His freakish athletic ability — he also played basketball at North Carolina — allows him to do things other defensive linemen can’t.
Defensive end Mike Rucker, Peppers’ teammate for his five NFL seasons, said Peppers occasionally jokes around with teammates but prefers to stay in the background.
While he was cordial with reporters Monday, Peppers also took issue with the assumption a leader has to be loud.
Peppers’ play in his first five seasons likely means he’s in line for a big contract. With two years left on his deal, Peppers could surpass Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney’s six-year, $72 million deal that included a $30 million signing bonus.
As usual, Peppers didn’t want to discuss it.
But Peppers was challenged by his boss, who will be writing that big check if that day comes. Still, don’t look for Peppers to be giving any motivational speeches before kickoff.
On the Net:
Carolina Panthers: http://www.panthers.com/