Panthers Football: Gross expects Peppers to excel

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2008

By Mike Cranston
Associated Press
The Panthers notebook …
SPARTANBURG, S.C. ó Julius Peppers’ dismal 2007 season with Carolina will be quickly forgotten this year, according to teammate Jordan Gross.
Gross, the Panthers’ starting left tackle, has been matched against the right defensive end for the first three days of training camp.
“I’ll say this with 100 percent confidence, I think he’s going to have his best year ever,” Gross said Monday. “He’s better than I’ve ever seen him. Barring anything unknown, there’s no reason he won’t go out and set records, I think. He looks really, really good.”
Peppers had his three-year streak of Pro Bowl selections snapped after being nearly invisible last season. Seeming to lack energy and push, Peppers was held to a career-low 21/2 sacks. He had 13 in 2006.
While the shy Peppers hasn’t talked to reporters since late last season, Gross said he’s seen a noticeable difference since he was shifted from the left side of the line.
“I think it’s a bit of a new challenge for him,” Gross said. “He’s been training all offseason. I’ve talked to him as much as he’ll talk and he said he just feels stronger, faster, bigger than ever. It’s definitely true just in these few days I’ve been going against him, he made me earn everything I’m getting.”
While Gross struggles against the 6-foot-7, 283-pound Peppers, he believes it’ll make games seem easy.
“It’s great for me switching back to left (tackle) again to go against him, because there really isn’t going to be anybody better than him this year,” Gross said. “If he keeps on the same pace he’s on now, he’s just going to kill people.”

CONTENT GROSS: Gross was in good spirits Monday, despite an offseason that saw the Panthers place the franchise tag on him.
The move effectively prevented the free agent from getting offers from other teams. If a team signed Gross, it would have had to give the Panthers two first-round draft picks in return.
Instead, Gross signed a one-year, $7.45 million contract with Carolina. The two sides could still have worked out a long-term deal, but didn’t before this month’s deadline.
“I thought I would re-sign and we didn’t talk really at all in the last few months,” Gross said. “I think they’re happy with the one-year deal. There are a lot of issues off the field with the team and getting guys signed long-term. I’m here now and that’s all I can really worry about.”

VINCENT’S TURN: Keydrick Vincent replaced Toniu Fonoti as the first-team right guard during Monday’s morning practice. Fonoti began training camp there, but the coaching staff is expected to tinker in one of the most wide-open position battles.
“We’ve got a lot of competition in the O-line,” coach John Fox said. “Like I said, it’s still early. We haven’t picked our starting lineup for the season at this point. That’s why we’re here.”
Vincent was signed as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason after spending 2007 in Arizona.