NFL AWARDS

Hot Peppers


Julius Peppers pictured knocking the ball loose from Arizona QB Jake Plummer in an October game, was voted Monday The Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 12:01 a.m.

Not even a four-game suspension could stop Julius Peppers from winning The Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award Monday.

Facts

NFL Defensive Rookie Voting

NEW YORK - Voting for the 2002 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as selected by a nationwide panel of the media:

Julius Peppers, Panthers - 25
Dwight Freeney, Colts - 14
Roy Williams, Cowboys - 7
Ed Reed, Ravens - 1
Tank Williams, Titans - 1

The Carolina Panthers' defensive end, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, missed the last four games of the season for violating the league's drug policy. He took a dietary supplement that contained a banned substance.

Before that, he had 12 sacks, second among rookies to Colts end Dwight Freeney, who played the entire season to get 13.

Peppers, a former basketball star at North Carolina who gave up roundball to play football full time, received 25 votes from a nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. Freeney was next with 14.

``When I first came into this season, I felt that I had a chance to win this award if I played up to my potential and did what I knew I could do,'' Peppers said. ``I was never focused on winning individual awards. I just tried to help the team out and do all that I could do.

``I thought that my suspension would hurt my chances at winning this award, because it seemed like everyone had forgotten me, because I wasn't able to play in the last four games. ... It feels good to win this award because it means that people noticed what I did this year.''

How could they miss him? Peppers helped the Panthers leap from 1-15 in 2001 to 7-9. The defense went from an open-door policy to a stingy unit that ranked second in the NFL. Under new coach John Fox, Carolina had 52 sacks, behind only Philadelphia.

But Peppers did a lot more than simply rush the passer. He was enough of a presence against the run to help his team rank eighth.

``I had a couple of three-sack games, which were big accomplishments also,'' he said, ``but the thing that I am most proud of is continuing to get better every week as a player.''

Peppers' skills also sparked strong years by fellow end Mike Rucker and tackle Kris Jenkins, who made the All-Pro team. Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio can't wait to get started with that unit next season.

``I think all of them had big years, and you have to give some credit to Mike Trgovac, the defensive line coach,'' Del Rio said. ``To be able to take Julius under a lot of pressure for him to perform and have him perform even above the high expectations the way he did is sensational.

``That also took Kris Jenkins and Mike Rucker to career highs in production. We leaned heavily on the D-line.''

Peppers joined such NFL greats as Joe Greene, Lawrence Taylor, Jack Lambert and Derrick Thomas in winning top defensive rookie honors. He's the Panthers' first player to earn the award.

Dallas safety Roy Williams got seven votes, followed by Baltimore safety Ed Reed and Tennessee safety Tank Williams with one each.

Last year's winner was Pittsburgh LB Kendrell Bell.

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