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Panthers DE Peppers skips start of minicamp as stalemate continues

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It would be understandable if Julius Peppers' Carolina Panthers teammates were angry.

First, the four-time Pro Bowl defensive end announced he had "maxed out" in Carolina and would never sign a long-term deal with the team. Then he sought a trade when the Panthers placed the franchise tag on him.

2008 Statistics
Games/Starts: 16/16

Tackles: 51

Sacks: 14.5

The latest act of Peppers' offseason of defiance came Friday when he was the only player missing from the start of the Panthers' three-day minicamp.

Yet it was hard to find anybody visibly upset or concerned that the franchise's all-time sacks leader was sitting at home instead of signing a contract that would pay him more than $1 million per game.

"It's kind of what I expected. He hasn't signed his tender yet," Panthers coach John Fox said. "I know he's working out. He'll be in great shape."

Added defensive tackle Damione Lewis: "It's business. It doesn't make him a bad person. When he's ready to come in, he'll be here."

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney remained confident there will be a happy ending of Peppers dressed in his familiar No. 90 jersey on the first day of training camp this summer. Hurney said he remains in contact with Carl Carey, Peppers' agent.

"It's all been positive," Hurney said. "It just takes time."

Carey didn't return messages seeking comment Friday. No trade involved Peppers at the draft last weekend, so Carey's options are limited. It's unlikely another team will sign Peppers to a deal because that club would have to surrender two first-round draft picks to Carolina as compensation.

Because Peppers hasn't signed the one-year, $16.7 million tender, Carey can negotiate a trade with other teams for less compensation. He then would have to come to the Panthers for approval.

But with the draft over, any picks that Carolina would receive would be for next year and not address the giant hole Peppers would leave on the defensive line.

Peppers' absence overshadowed the Panthers' first workout under defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, who left the Indianapolis Colts to try to shore up a defense that faltered at the end of last season.

Charles Johnson worked in Peppers' spot at right defensive end opposite Tyler Brayton. They combined for 10.5 sacks last season, but Peppers alone had a career-high 14.5.

Second-round pick Everette Brown of Florida State worked on the second-team defensive line. He, too, claimed to be unfazed that the player he idolized growing up in eastern North Carolina was a no-show.

"Julius is a great player and he's had a great career in Charlotte," Brown said. "I'm just coming out here and preparing to the best of my ability as if I'm a starter."

That might happen if Peppers is traded or holds out. But Fox was convinced Peppers will be on the field for the start of training camp. If that's the case, why hasn't Peppers already signed the tender?

"I couldn't tell you," Fox said.

If there was animosity among teammates who were sweating through two workouts without Peppers, it was hidden well.

"If we were playing today and he wasn't here, yeah, I'd be disappointed," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "Things have a way of working themselves out. I don't think there's any doubt we'd love to have Julius out here."

Lewis said he last spoke to Peppers about a month and half ago, but they talked little about the defensive end's contract or his future. Lewis insisted there will be no ill will in the locker room if Peppers returns.

"We'll be great with him. We love playing with him," Lewis said. "He's the leader of this defense. We want him here. We want him to stay here."

Notes: Lewis was held out of team drills as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Nick Hayden worked with the first team in Lewis' place. ... LBs Jon Beason and Na'il Diggs and S Chris Harris also sat out because of recent shoulder surgeries. All are expected to be ready for training camp. ... RBs DeAngelo Williams (hamstring) and Jonathan Stewart (ankle) didn't practice, leaving DeCori Birmingham taking carries with the first team. ... WR/KR Ryne Robinson participated after missing last season with a knee injury. ... G Keydrick Vincent practiced after being sidelined late last season with a groin injury. ... TE Dante Rosario was diagnosed with a lower back injury and will undergo surgery Monday.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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