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LB Beason lone player talking to disgruntled DE Peppers

Jon Beason is the most sought after Carolina Panther these days not by going from rookie holdout to top tackler and team leader in less than two years.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jon Beason is the most sought after Carolina Panther these days not by going from rookie holdout to top tackler and team leader in less than two years.

It's because the chiseled linebacker is apparently the only person in the organization who's been in contact with Julius Peppers, the disgruntled and absent four-time Pro Bowl defensive end.

"I talked to him last weekend," Beason said Tuesday at the conclusion of the team's final offseason workout. "He said he's doing good, he's training and he'll be ready to go when training camp gets here."

So despite publicly declaring he wants to play elsewhere, his refusal so far to sign a one-year, guaranteed tender worth $16.7 million and his failure to attend one offseason workout, Peppers will show up for the start of training camp on Aug. 2?

Beason indicated Peppers hadn't committed to that.

"I'm hoping it's the first day," Beason said. "When I talked to him I said, 'Hey, if you come in, at least come in on the first day. Don't be like me.'"

The bizarre offseason dispute of Peppers vs. Panthers was hard to overlook as Carolina's offseason program concluded Tuesday morning with a conditioning test that left players hunched over and dripping with sweat.

Coach John Fox then gathered his players and reminded them of January's ugly home playoff loss to Arizona, which overshadowed Carolina's 12-4 regular season and NFC South title.

"It's like that elephant in the room," said Fox, who was referring to the 33-13 loss to the Cardinals in the NFC divisional playoffs, but he also could have been describing Peppers' situation.

Peppers missed the offseason conditioning program in February, three-day minicamp in May and all 12 optional workouts this month as new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks installed a system designed to take advantage of the freakishly athletic Peppers and his speedy teammates.

"Julius is a real smart player so I don't think he's going to have any troubles that way," Fox said. "I don't think it's a huge issue because as far as linemen, I think they're going to get the bulk of their work in training camp."

With his options dwindling, a training camp holdout is perhaps Peppers' final hand to play. A public pressuring of the Panthers not to place the franchise tag on him didn't work. Agent Carl Carey then couldn't get another team to agree to give up two first-round picks to sign Carolina's career sacks leader. There was no trade on draft weekend and salary-cap space is being gobbled up around the league.

Peppers hasn't spoken to reporters since Valentine's Day, when he said he had "maxed out" in Carolina and wanted to play as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Carey, who hasn't returned messages in nearly three months, remained silent on Tuesday.

Fox didn't answer directly when asked if he'd been assured by Peppers or Carey that the right defensive end will be at training camp.

"This has been worn out as a subject, but I anticipate he'll be at camp," Fox said.

General manager Marty Hurney added only that "nothing's changed" with Peppers, leaving Beason as not only the public's conduit to Peppers, but also Peppers' go-to guy for learning the new defense.

Beason believes it won't take long for Peppers to catch up.

"What they're asking him to do, man, is just play football and let his God-given ability just take over," Beason said.

After a career-high 14.5 sacks last season, Peppers' return is key to Meeks' plan of stopping an alarming defensive regression late last season that saw Carolina allow 30 or more points in five of its last seven games.

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