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What is the 'elephant' position, and why is Julius Peppers playing it for Packers?

Eric Edholm
Shutdown Corner
NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
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When the Green Bay Packers signed Julius Peppers, it raised a few interesting questions.

One being: where would Peppers, traditionally a 4-3 end, play in the Packers' 3-4 scheme?

Peppers always has been a 4-3 hand-in-the-ground end, and one reason why the Houston Texans drafted David Carr first overall over Peppers in 2002 is because then Texans head coach Dom Capers didn't see Peppers as a fit in his 3-4 scheme.

Capers, now the Packers' defensive coordinator, apparently sees things differently now. Peppers is expected to play an "elephant" position in the Packers' defense, which head coach Mike McCarthy revealed at the NFL owners meetings.

What exactly is en elephant?

"'Elephant' is a term used for a multiple-position player along the defensive front," McCarthy said, according to the Journal Sentinal. "Julius will be part of that group. The specifics I'd rather get into once the players find out, once we go through it with the players.

"But that's the big-picture outlook for the way we'll use Julius defensively."

The Packers will use Peppers in a variety of ways — he'll rush from an end spot when the Packers are in base defense, slide inside in nickel, and he can play up as a 6-foot-7 linebacker, rerouting tight ends off the line, covering in short areas or rushing the passer.

Yes, the Packers see Peppers fitting into this new role well, even at age 34, coming off a disappointing season. He has lined up at both ends and kicked inside previously, and he can make this transition, McCarthy believes.

"There's two parts of it," McCarthy said. "It's not only your position, your alignment, it's your assignment. So he has more to offer — in his opinion — from an assignment standpoint.

"Competing against Julius, he's lined up on both sides at defensive end, he has been an inside rusher, so those experiences he already has and (they) will continue. But what we ask him to do, we will have more flexibility with him. And we will probably ask him to align in another place or two."

The elephant position is not a new term in football. It goes back to Charles Haley (and Rickey Jackson and Chris Doleman and others) with the 49ers, who used the elephant pass-rushing role very effectively in the 1980s and 1990s under George Seifert. Pete Carroll long has been a proponent of the position — also called a "Leo" rusher — in the 4-3 scheme now used by the Seahawks and Jaguars, under Gus Bradley. Other well-known players to assume the role were Willie McGinest and Jason Taylor.
It might have been fascinating to see Peppers in this type of scheme in his heyday. He's still an athletic wonder, and perhaps putting him on his feet more will help preserve the final few years of his career while still taking advantage of his rare athleticism. The Packers are counting on it.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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