Eric Washington on Julius Peppers, Panthers' D-line: 'A good-looking group'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers defensive line coach Eric Washington insists this has been a typical offseason for him.

Typical, as in Washington drawing interest from the San Francisco 49ers about their defensive coordinator’s position.

Typical, as in the Panthers signing Washington’s star defensive tackle, Kawann Short, to a five-year, $80.5 million deal.

Typical, as in Washington being reunited with nine-time Pro Bowl selection Julius Peppers to fill a key role at defensive end.

Typical, as in general manager Dave Gettleman also making sure Washington didn’t enter this season without 2016 sack leader Mario Addison and perennial team captain Charles Johnson, signing both ends to extensions.

Typical, as in the Panthers using a third-round draft pick on an end, Texas A&M’s Daeshon Hall, after going two years without selecting a player at that position.

If this has been a typical offseason, then every day must feel like Christmas to Washington.

It certainly did Tuesday, when Washington lined up his group on the field for the first time since the end of last year as the Panthers began organized team activities.

“It’s a good-looking group,’’ said Washington, a former Naval Reserve officer.

It has the potential to be one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. Few, if any, teams are deeper at tackle than the the Panthers, who have Short, Star Lotulelei and Vernon Butler, all former first-round draft picks.

The addition of Peppers, who at 37 looks as good as Washington remembered him when the two were at Chicago in 2010, to go with veterans Addison and Johnson adds to the formidable crew.

That’s not to say this group isn’t without flaws. Johnson is coming off back surgery, and Peppers, no matter how good he looks, can’t be the same player he was seven years ago.

But if you have to pick the deepest, most talented unit on the Panthers, it would have to be the defensive line.

“There’s a good mix of experience and youth,’’ Washington said. “We’ve got some guys that have accomplished some things in a short period of time or over the course of 16 years in the case of Julius Peppers.

“I’m excited about how they can impact our defense and help our team accomplish our goals.’’

The youth includes Butler, a first-round pick in 2016, and Hall. The experience is everywhere.

And that starts with Peppers, who ranks fifth on the NFL’s all-time sack list with 143.5 and first on Carolina’s with 81.0, accumulated during his first eight NFL seasons (2002-09).

“Honestly, looking at him move around, looking at the quickness, the power, the athleticism, being able to change directions at full tilt ... I’m not trying to hype Julius, but he doesn’t look a lot different than when I had a chance to work with him in 2010,’’ Washington said.

“I know he’s older, and we’ll have to make sure we’re smart about how we utilize him, but I still see him being able to have a major impact on our football team as a one-on-one pass-rusher or run defender.’’

The Panthers didn’t consistently have that last season. Addison, who had 9.5 sacks, is more of a pass-rush threat than a run-stopper. He’s also too light to move inside and play tackle in certain situations.

Johnson had been able to do everything through 2014, but he has only five sacks the past two seasons after having double-digit totals in three of his previous five.

Peppers still can do it all. And he’s adjusting nicely to returning to a 4-3 end role after playing outside linebacker in Green Bay’s 3-4 scheme the past three years.

That will help the progression of a rookie such as Hall.

“His home, his base, how he established himself in professional football is based on the fundamentals of a 4-3 defensive end,’’ Washington said of Peppers. “I see us utilizing him in a number of spots.

“The best thing about Julius is he can rush his left or his right hand and not lose a lot of coordination and power. He gives us a lot of flexibility on game day.’’

Peppers also provides leadership. He hasn’t missed a meeting or workout since the offseason program began five weeks ago.

“He’s taking notes as though this is the first time he’s heard some of this information, and he respects the process,’’ Washington said. “That has a huge impact on the young football players and the ones that are in the middle of their careers.’’

Washington doesn’t know how this group will stack up with the others he has had since arriving at Carolina in 2011. The 2013 unit was led by Johnson and Greg Hardy, who had 40 of the team’s league-leading 60 sacks.

If this group comes close to that, Washington definitely won’t be able to say it was a typical season.

And that could lead to an atypical 2017 offseason, because more teams will be inquiring about him as a coordinator.

“Everything worked out the way it was supposed to,’’ Washington said of not going elsewhere this offseason. “When the opportunity presents itself to me, I’ll be prepared for that.’’

That's a typical response.