Charles Johnson has a sack in nine of his last 10 games for the Panthers. (File photo by John Clark)
CHARLOTTE – Julius Peppers said he’s been impressed with the development of his protégé Charles Johnson.
Johnson played behind Peppers for three seasons before becoming the team’s starting defensive end after Peppers left to join the Chicago Bears last season as an unrestricted free agent. Johnson made the most of that opportunity, recording 10.5 sacks last season, cashing in on a six-year, $76.5 million contract in July.
“I’m really more proud of him and how he’s handling himself as a player and a professional,” Peppers said. “It seems like he’s growing up and being more of a leader and being more mature. When I was there he was kind of like the little brother. So to see him do well and take coaching and become a player in his own right is gratifying for me.”
Peppers said he would tease Johnson about how good he wanted to become, telling him he could be a Pro Bowl player if he really applied himself.
But Peppers said first Johnson needed to learn to become a pro.
“Different people come into the league at different stages and at a different level of maturity,” Peppers said. “I’m not calling him immature when he first came into the league, but he just wasn’t as much of a professional as he needed to be and he grew into that.”
NEWTON: PEPPERS SCARES PEOPLE: Rookie quarterback Cam Newton is well aware of the havoc Peppers can cause.
When asked Wednesday if he’ll be aware of where Peppers lines up on Sunday against the Panthers, Newton smiled and said, “Very aware. Julius is a big human being, and he scares people. He scares me also. But I have faith in my offensive line that they’ll get the job done.”
NEWTON RECEIVES AWARDS: It didn’t take long for Newton to earn his first major award in the NFL.
On Wednesday, he was named Offensive Rookie of the Month for September.
Newton completed 59.8 percent of his passes and threw for 1,012 yards with four touchdown passes and four interceptions and became only the sixth quarterback in NFL history to record back-to-back games with 400 or more passing yards. His 854 yards over the first two games shattered a league record for most passing yards through two career starts.
INJURY UPDATE: Coach Ron Rivera said earlier this week he expected to have a full slate of players at practice Wednesday, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.
Tackle Jeff Otah (back) and Chris Gamble (head) both sat out practice.
Rivera said he still expects Gamble to play, but he wasn’t sure about Otah. Otah’s back flared up on him after Sunday’s game. The Panthers are hoping the injury is nothing serious and doesn’t become problematic. If for some reason Otah can’t play the Panthers would turn undrafted rookie Byron Bell.
OLSEN RETURNS HOME: Tight end Greg Olsen will make his return to Chicago to face the team that traded him to the Panthers this offseason.
“Of course I want to go up there and play well, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t,” Olsen said. “But you don’t want to try to do too much and make it more than it is. It’s not the Super Bowl. We want to continue to get better and that’s the approach we’re going to take.”
After the trade, the Bears said Olsen had asked to be traded, something Olsen vehemently denies.
“I didn’t ask for a trade, it’s about as simple as that,” Olsen said. “They will say what they want to and protect themselves so people won’t make them out to seem, you know, whatever. But it’s over and I’m glad I’m here.”
BACK IN BLACK: Johnson, who signed a $76.5 million contract in the offseason, said he’s ordered a new black Lamborghini. The car is being shipped in from overseas.
“I’m an all black cat,” Johnson said. “I’m black and I like all of my cars black.”
ON THE RETURN: Chicago’s Devin Hester has been fairly quiet on returns this year, but you don’t have to tell Panthers punter Jason Baker just how dangerous he is. Hester had a 50-yard return against the Panthers last year and might have gone the distance had it not been for a shoestring tackle by Baker.
Baker said the key to stopping Hester this year is simple – don’t punt as much.
“You can’t give a guy like that eight or nine chances like we did last year,” Baker said. “We have to move the ball well. But the reality is there are good players in the league you face every week but I would be lying if I said Devin wasn’t unique. He’s very good and makes good decisions and has the ability to take advantage of mistakes. We’ll undoubtedly have to cover some punts this week, so that’s a big challenge.”
IT’S ALL IN A NAME: Teammates often call Legedu Naanee “L.A.,” which refers to the initials in his name, Legedu Agbora. He father, Agbora Naanee, is from Nigeria.