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Panthers open practice without disgruntled DE Peppers

Jon Beason is convinced that Julius Peppers will love the Carolina Panthers' new defense. Having the four-time Pro Bowl defensive end see it for himself is the hard part.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jon Beason is convinced that Julius Peppers will love the Carolina Panthers' new defense. Having the four-time Pro Bowl defensive end see it for himself is the hard part.

The disgruntled Peppers was a predictable no-show for the start of three weeks of optional offseason workouts Wednesday. It also marked Beason's first practice under new Panthers defensive coordinator Ron Meeks since the middle linebacker's recovery from offseason shoulder surgery.

"I know one thing: Pep is going to have a lot more freedom to let his God-given ability and his talent that he's fine-tuned over the years, to really showcase it," Beason said. "Pep is a freak, a special type of guy."

And a quiet one, too. Peppers hasn't spoken to reporters since January, when he declared that he had "maxed out" in Carolina, wanted to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and pleaded with the Panthers to let him leave in free agency.

The Panthers weren't swayed by that or threats by agent Carl Carey and placed the franchise tag on their all-time sacks leader. That required giving Peppers a one-year tender worth $16.7 million. In turn, another team could sign Peppers only by giving Carolina two first-round draft picks.

Carey couldn't find a suitor or arrange a trade for less compensation, and with training camp two months away, Peppers' options are dwindling. Yet he still hasn't signed his tender or communicated with the team in months -- an uncomfortable position for the Panthers since Peppers accounted for 64 percent of their sacks last season.

Beason, one of the few players to speak to Peppers this offseason, said his teammate has spent the past month working out in Arizona and will stay there until the start of training camp.

Beason remains confident that Peppers eventually will return to the team that made him the second overall pick in the 2002 draft.

"I hope so. The way it's working out with the trades and all that stuff, it's getting late," Beason said. "So you can assume or hope that he is. He's said that if he is back, he's going to be ready to go."

Peppers would rejoin a Carolina team that will have a new look under Meeks, who had been the Indianapolis Colts' defensive coordinator. Known for depending on speedy, athletic defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis with the Colts, Meeks is giving his Panthers players more freedom than Mike Trgovac -- who left after Carolina's defense imploded late last season, including in a 33-13 playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

"Look at Dwight Freeney and Mathis that were in Indianapolis. They've had very productive careers," Panthers safety Chris Harris said. "Pep has already had a productive career, so I think it will work well."

The Panthers haven't changed their stance that they expect Peppers to return for the start of training camp on Aug. 2. So far, Charles Johnson has stayed ahead of second-round pick Everette Brown and worked with the first team in Peppers' spot at right defensive end, opposite Tyler Brayton.

Johnson and Brayton combined for 10.5 sacks last season. Peppers had a career-high 14.5 sacks in 2008.

Beason said Peppers could even be more productive if he gives the Panthers and Meeks' defense a chance.

"I think it allows the athletes we have on our defense to showcase that," Beason said. "That's going to be huge for us this year, just flying around and making plays."

Notes: The only veteran other than Peppers to be absent Wednesday was WR Muhsin Muhammad. ... The Panthers got half of their RB tandem back. DeAngelo Williams (hamstring) practiced after missing the earlier minicamp. Jonathan Stewart (ankle) remained sidelined. ... Harris, DT Damione Lewis and LB Na'il Diggs practiced after missing minicamp with shoulder injuries. ... The Panthers signed CB Reggie Sullivan of Johnson C. Smith and S Paul Chiara of Syracuse as undrafted free agents.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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