SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) -Julius Peppers runs around the field with the ease of a receiver, cutting and slashing his way to the quarterback with speed and strength.
Off the field, the Carolina Panthers defensive end is much less visible, often walking around alone, headphones over his ears and a backpack on his shoulders.
And even after owner Jerry Richardson last week challenged him to become the leader of the defense, the shy Peppers doesn't plan on any big changes.
``I don't think he meant to say, 'You're the leader of this team,''' Peppers said Monday in his first meeting with reporters since training camp began. ``There are other leaders on the team. We have Steve (Smith) and Jake (Delhomme) and a lot of other cats on the team that can step up.
``I don't think it's fair for all people to place that bearing on me by myself.''
Peppers clearly doesn't like the spotlight. He looked uncomfortable and spoke softly to reporters Monday. While he is always the first defensive lineman to go through a drill, the three-time Pro Bowl pick rarely talks during practice.
Richardson, who soon may sign off on making Peppers one of the game's highest-paid defensive players, wants him to assume the role of defensive leader after the retirement of veteran safety Mike Minter last week.
``I'm not talking about running and sacking, I'm talking about leadership,'' Richardson said to Peppers at Minter's retirement news conference. ``This is your time.''
But Peppers shrugged off the comments, indicating fans and reporters blew them out of proportion.
``We need guys to step up and be more vocal and that doesn't mean coming out here and talking (to the media). Not that I have a problem with that, that's not what that means,'' Peppers said. ``Maybe pulling the young guys to the side and encouraging them to watch a little more film. I think that's being a leader.''
If he chose to become vocal, the 6-foot-7, 283-pound Peppers would have the credentials to back up his words. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft, the Bailey, N.C., native is one of the game's most dominant defensive ends.
His 53 1/2 sacks are a team record. His freakish athletic ability - he also played basketball at North Carolina - allows him to do things other defensive linemen can't.
Defensive end Mike Rucker, Peppers' teammate for his five NFL seasons, said Peppers occasionally jokes around with teammates but prefers to stay in the background.
``I just think he's more reserved and doesn't necessarily want to be that guy that's always out front,'' Rucker said. ``A lot of times in the professional atmosphere you see guys that want the limelight, that want the cameras, want the microphones. He's not that guy. He doesn't need all of that to make him tick.''
While he was cordial with reporters Monday, Peppers also took issue with the assumption a leader has to be loud.
``We had guys who talked who really didn't back it up,'' Peppers said. ``I would rather have my actions speak for me.''
Peppers' play in his first five seasons likely means he's in line for a big contract. With two years left on his deal, Peppers could surpass Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney's six-year, $72 million deal that included a $30 million signing bonus.
As usual, Peppers didn't want to discuss it.
``I'm not concerned about what anybody else it getting or what I make because I don't have it,'' Peppers said. ``I'm not worried about it.''
But Peppers was challenged by his boss, who will be writing that big check if that day comes. Still, don't look for Peppers to be giving any motivational speeches before kickoff.
``I've been a leader my whole time here, you know,'' Peppers said. ``Going out and working hard here every day.''

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