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Peppers on the Texans' minds


While Tropical Storm Humberto threatens to disrupt the Texans' late-week practice sessions, another imposing force awaits them Sunday in North Carolina: Go ahead and call him Hurricane Julius Peppers.

By any measure of power, the Panthers' defensive end qualifies.

Texans head coach Gary Kubiak understands the challenge his offensive line faces.

"They move him everywhere," Kubiak said. "He's such a good player and a smart player. He'll play inside on your guard. He'll play on both sides as a defensive end.

"So to sit there and say, 'This is how we're going to neutralize him.' I don't believe you can do that. They are too good as a group. We'll just have to play well against him. We'll have to be very balanced against him."

{QUOTE}Peppers is among the most feared pass rushers in the league and combined with his defensive end mate Mike Rucker, the Panthers' defense presents an awesome challenge for the Texans' offensive line.

"Julius Peppers is a special athlete, 290 pounds, former basketball player at North Carolina, he's a special guy," backup tackle Jordan Black said. "He's everything. He doesn't have a deficiency. He's 290 and runs like a deer. Everything you could want in a defensive end, he's got."

The Texans' offensive line showed improvement in last week's 20-3 victory over Kansas City.

They have a bigger test this week against the Panthers.

Peppers and Rucker are among the most feared tandem pass-rushing ends in the NFL. They have 91.5 sacks over the past five seasons, tying Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis of Indianapolis for the league lead over that time span.

Peppers has double-digit sacks in four of his five NFL seasons.

"The fact those guys have been together for a while, they can do a lot of things with the front," Kubiak said of the Panthers. "The key for us is having third downs that are manageable. If you get to third-and-seven, third-and-10 against this team, you're going to get beat."

The Texans handled the Indianapolis defense enough to upset the Super Bowl-bound Colts late last season. They want to repeat that effort this Sunday on the road.

"(Peppers) is one of the best in the league and really, their front four is very solid," center Steve McKinney said. "It's one of the best front four we'll face all year. Indianapolis is a good front four as well. It will be loud and it's a good test for the team to see where we're really at."

Added starting guard Chester Pitts about Peppers: "He's obviously a special player in the league, a long lengthy guy. He can pass rush. He makes plays."

Texans defensive end N.D. Kalu won't have to face Peppers. Still, he knows what the Texans' offensive line is facing.

"He's got an excellent work ethic," Kalu said. "Julius Peppers comes to Houston to work out, so I get to see him up close. He's very athletic. He has to be a freak of nature to be that big and that fast. You can see why he makes so many plays on the field."

Black suggests keeping the Panthers' defense guessing.

"Everyone knows their two defensive ends are phenomenal pass rushers," Black said. "The key to having a successful game against guys like that is to keep them guessing.

The worst thing you can do is get in situations where everyone in the stadium knows it's a pass.

"If we can keep them off balance, make sure we get decent yardage on first down and keep the third-and-longs to a minimum, you can be successful against them," Black said.

The Texans have a defensive end of their own, Mario Williams, who has been compared in athleticism to Peppers. Williams had a breakout game in Sunday's season opener against Kansas City with a pair of sacks and a 38-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

"Everybody knows he's a great player," Williams said of Peppers. "Our team is going to have a tough time, not just the offense. We've got to try to use what we have to block him."

Texans coaches have encouraged Williams to observe the excellence Peppers brings to the game.

"If there's anybody that I would tell Mario to emulate, it would be that guy," Black said. "They are very similar physically and that's the type of player he should model his game after."

Texans defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and senior defensive assistant Frank Bush have pointed out Peppers' highlights to Williams.

"He watches film of a lot of other players," Kubiak said of Williams. "Jethro and Frank have had him doing that since the offseason started. He respects him (Peppers) and knows what kind of player he is. If he can get close to that, it's going to be a good career for him."

Williams must follow his breakout game with many more.

"He's (Williams) got to be consistent," Kubiak said. "Julius Peppers has been doing it week in and week out in this league. If you want to be considered a great player in this league, (if) you want your peers to think of you that way, you have to do it week in and week out."

The Texans hope that Peppers has one of those rare off weeks, but they're preparing for the usual.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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