BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers kept it low key Thursday in expressing a desire to be the first recipient of the Deacon Jones Award, which beginning this season will be given annually to the NFL's leader in sacks.
A Hall of Fame defensive end, who coined the term "sack," Jones died in June of natural causes. Jones led the Rams' Fearsome Foursome from 1961 to '71 before playing for San Diego for two seasons and finishing with the Redskins in 1974.
"I would love to have it," Peppers said of the award. "I'm not going to sit out here and make any bold predictions or brash statements about what I'm going to do. But yeah, I would love to have it."
Jones was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and made the league's 75th anniversary all-time team. Peppers could be on the way to a similar path, having racked up 111.5 career sacks over 170 games, which ranks as 18th since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic.
Peppers contributed 11.5 sacks in 2012 and has posted 30.5 sacks in three seasons with the Bears over 48 games. Peppers became the first Bear since 2001 and 2002 last season to register double-digit sacks in back-to-back seasons. In 2011, Peppers led the team with 11 sacks.
"It's so impressive, it's hard to describe," Bears coach Marc Trestman said, "the way he carries himself around the locker room, through the meetings and certainly on the field. Watching him since April, just impressive; the consistent high level of effort. He's all over the field. He's first in line. We all want to grow up and be like Julius. Quite frankly, that's the kind of a man I think of him as."
At 33 years old, Peppers doesn't expect to experience a decline in production any time soon. Since he entered the league in 2002, he ranks No. 2 behind Minnesota’s Jared Allen (117) in sacks. He has tallied 10.5 sacks or more in four of his past five seasons.
"Once your body starts to [decline] physically, you have to put the work in," Peppers said. "I'm doing that. I wouldn't say it's any harder. I'm just doing the right things to get my recovery and working on the right things."
But does Peppers feel himself aging?
"No, not at all," he said. "I'm serious, I don't. I feel like I'm 25. Age is just a number that gets put on players. It's real, but it's really in your heart and your mind how you feel. I feel young in those places, and I think it's showing."
Having lined up against Peppers the first few practices of training camp, Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod saw that firsthand.
"He's intense every year. I've played him every year since I've been in the league. He brings it," Bushrod said. "He'll make you pay."