EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The last time he lined up across from mountainous Minnesota left tackle Bryant McKinnie, Julius Peppers had his way.
Playing defensive end for Carolina last December, Peppers had one sack, one batted pass, three hits and five hurries on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre. One Panthers teammate said Peppers was playing “possessed” and he McKinnie, after a false start and a holding penalty, was benched at the end of the third quarter.
Peppers signed a six-year contract with Chicago in March worth as much as $91.5 million, including $42 million guaranteed for the guy whose 83 sacks in 130 games since 2002 are the third-most in the NFL during that span.
The first of two now-annual matchups against McKinnie and Minnesota will arrive Sunday.
“That’s a guy that definitely has to get game-planned, Peppers,” Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. “I mean, just hearing his name you already know the type of accomplishments, the type of terror he brings to offenses. So he has to be contained. You can’t have no wild lion running around the neighborhood, you know? You’ve got to go out there and get out the tranquilizers.”
The Bears use Peppers on both sides, so right tackle Phil Loadholt must be prepared to block him, too. But McKinnie is expected to have the bulk of the responsibility.
“No doubt Bryant had a tough game last year,” Favre said. “And really this year you could point to any one of us and say, ‘This guy has struggled. This guy has struggled.’ Moreso than last year. So Bryant would probably be the first to tell you he could protect a little bit better. I could make better decisions. We could run better routes. We could call better plays. We could do all those things.”
Favre said he’s been talking with McKinnie this week, even teasing him a bit about the big challenge.
“He’s ready for it,” Favre said. “Now, he’s playing against a great football player who will win his fair amount of plays. I don’t know if that means a sack or what. So he’s got a huge challenge. And he’ll line up on both sides so Phil will have a huge challenge as well. This guy is a premier player so to think we’re going to keep him out the whole time may be asking a little too much, but I think all of our guys are ready for the challenge.”
Peppers dismissed his past dominance of the 6-foot-8, 335-pound McKinnie.
“I really don’t want to get into talking about last year,” Peppers said. “It’s a whole new season against players that have improved. I’ve improved in different things. I’m playing on a different team, different scheme. So last year was last year. We’re looking forward to playing the Minnesota Vikings of 2010.”
McKinnie has been unavailable for comment this week. Last year, he downplayed the apparent ease with which Peppers moved around him, crediting him for the sack but not much else. Instead, McKinnie blamed himself being distracted by the penalties and focusing too much on his footwork.
“It was entirely too much thinking going on,” McKinnie said then.
The Vikings will certainly give him plenty of help, whether with tight ends or running backs.
But coach Brad Childress summed it up best: “Sometimes you’ve got to stand by yourself because nobody’s going to be left in the backfield.”
Peppers has only two sacks in eight games, but the Bears have credited him with 12 quarterback hurries. The 6-foot-7, 283-pound Peppers, who came into the league the same year as McKinnie, also has three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one interception for the 5-3 Bears.
“I’ve been pleased. The numbers aren’t where we would like them to be, but those things will come,” Peppers said. “But other than that, I think it’s been a great season. I think it’s been one of my better seasons playing the position overall, rushing and playing the run and just being active on the field.”
Like Peppers, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen can relate to having to be patient with the sack numbers.
Allen had only one sack in the first six games until getting 2 1/2 last week, but both players expressed an All-Pro’s confidence in their own performance.
“I pride myself in being a complete player, not just a pass rusher,” Peppers said.
“I kind of don’t like how defensive ends these days are solely judged on your pass-rushing skills,” he said. “That’s one thing I really like about Julius is he’s been all-around guy for so many years. He seems like he has a niche for making big plays, whether it’s tackling or forcing the fumble. He’s always made his presence felt on the field and as a fan of the sport, as a fan of the position, you look at that and admire that.”
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