John Fox: Julius Peppers still has pep in step 15 years after draft

Bears coach John Fox still remembers being criticized  when he was with the Panthers for drafting Julius Peppers over Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington in 2002.

Fifteen years later, the 37-year-old is back with the Panthers after stops with the Bears and Packers.

“You could tell he was going to be special, and the fact that he’s still playing is pretty special,” Fox said. “He’s an incredible athlete and an incredible teammate.”

The Panthers have learned to manage his snaps in practice and games, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. They rotate as many healthy linemen as possible during games to get Peppers between 35 and 40 downs.

Julius Peppers in fifth in the NFL in sacks. (Getty Images)

“When he’s working, the dude is for real,” Rivera said. “He’s a lot of fun to watch in practice. He’s very savvy. He understands the game. The players respect him tremendously, too. That’s one of the neat things to watch — the young guys hanging around him and just try to pick his brain on things.”

He has come off the bench in six games but ranks fifth in the NFL with 6½ sacks. He had 7½ last season with the Packers. Peppers made three Pro Bowls with the Bears, from 2010 to 12.

“I think Ron and them are doing a good job of not playing him every down, they’re not playing him in the real face-knocking downs,” Fox said. “He’s a pass-rush specialist, and he’s very good at it.”

Why no Shaheen?

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was asked Wednesday what rookie tight end Adam Shaheen needs to do to get involved in the passing game.

“Um, we don’t need to run the ball 50 times and only call 17 passes,” Loggains said.

The Bears plan to increase Shaheen’s role. He has just one catch — a two-yard touchdown — but played a season-high 19 snaps against the Ravens.

“I don’t know if we target anyone outside Tarik [Cohen] a lot,” Loggains said. “We have a lot of faith in Adam as a player.”

This and that

Cornerback Sherrick McManis (hamstring), inside linebacker John Timu (knee, ankle) and wide receiver Markus Wheaton (groin) did not practice. Running back Benny Cunningham (hamstring), receiver Tanner Gentry (hip), center Hroniss Grasu (hand) and inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (pec) were limited.

Kyle Long’s brother, Chris, said he would donate the rest of his $1 million paycheck this season to charities that focus on making education accessible to underserved communities.

“He’s what a lot of people should strive to be like. He’s what I try to be like,” Long said.

Former Bears coach Mike Ditka turned 78 on Wednesday.

“I should go yell at somebody in his honor,” said Rivera, who played for Ditka.

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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