GREEN BAY – Charlie Peprah looked around as the throng of reporters descended upon him at his locker Wednesday afternoon and smiled.
“We'll see how long this lasts,” the Green Bay Packers safety said.
One of the most intelligent and engaging players on the team with a fascinating backstory – one that we profiled last season – Peprah doesn’t normally draw a crowd during media availability periods. He also isn’t a three-time Pro Bowl selection like the man he’ll replace in the Packers’ secondary, Nick Collins. And
But with Collins done for the year after suffering a serious neck injury last Sunday at Carolina, the team is once again counting on Peprah to come in and fill a major void on defense, just as he did last year when rookie safety Morgan Burnett tore the ACL in his left knee four weeks into the season.
"I'm not Nick Collins. So I'm not going to try and go out there and be Nick. I'm going to try to do what I've always done. I'm just going to be me, and contribute as best I can,” Peprah said Wednesday, as the 2-0 Packers prepared for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
“I think that's the thing you've got to know: I'm not going to go out there and make things look the way Nick made it look. But I'm going to get the job done, and I'm going to do it right, and I'm going to make plays. So that's just the mindset, go in and pick up where he left off. Keep the train moving."
That’s precisely what Peprah did last season after Burnett’s Oct. 3 injury against Detroit. He manned the safety spot opposite Collins for the next 12 regular season games and all four playoff games, including Super Bowl XLV, finishing with 90 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass break-ups in 13 total starts.
"Charlie Peprah played over 900 snaps for us last year. I think that statistic in itself tells you how well he played,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. “He'll be ready to go. We consider him a starter. We have all the confidence in the world in Charlie."
When Peprah’s coaches – safeties coach Darren Perry and defensive coordinator Dom Capers – have talked about him in the past, they’ve used words like “reliable” and “assignment-sure.” Sometimes, those can be euphemisms for someone who lacks playmaking ability. But talking at the Super Bowl about Peprah in February, Perry suggested that the Packers might not have made it there without him.
“Really, where would this team be? Charlie’s a guy that’s been so consistent for us in terms of his play,” Perry said at the time. “In the classroom, he’s a pro. On the field, he’s been about as consistent as any player we’ve had on our defensive unit. He doesn’t get some of the accolades and recognition that he (deserves) but I think Charlie’s had as fine a season as really any safety in the league.
“I marvel at what he’s done. He’s not going to wow people with his athleticism but in terms of being where he’s supposed to be and being productive and playing the game a certain way, to me, it’s a tribute to him and what can be made of getting an opportunity. He’s taken full advantage of that.”
On Wednesday, while acknowledging that “you don't just go and replace a Nick Collins-type player,” McCarthy also said that players like Peprah are vital to a team’s success.
“I think (Peprah) is an excellent example of what your team's supposed to be made of. You have to have players that can play roles, and the more roles you can play, the more valuable you are,” McCarthy said. “That's what it comes down to each year to pick the final roster. Sometimes, a lot's made of how many tight ends you keep this year and so forth, and there are certain numbers you try to hold to. But if you're going to pick the best 53-man roster, you have to stay true to the best football players and who has more value, who has more versatility.
“Charlie's a solid player, has been from the moment we acquired him."
Claimed off waivers from the New York Giants following final roster cuts in 2006, Peprah played primarily on special teams his first three years with the Packers. Released with an injury settlement before the 2009 season, Peprah played two games with the Atlanta Falcons before rejoining the Packers on a one-year deal prior to last season. After filling such a vital role last year, he re-upped with the Packers, signing a two-year, $2.5 million deal to return.
"I thought we had a great chance to win another one, and I wanted to be a part of that," Peprah said. "That was the thought process behind it. We have a great chance to have another great season. And I felt like my time here wasn't done yet, I wanted to come back and contribute to that. Hopefully we can get it done."
That’s the Packers’ hope about Peprah as well. Last year, when Burnett was injured, the team brought back Anthony Smith via a trade. Then, former starter Atari Bigby came off of the physically unable to perform list. And yet, Peprah remained the starter. Now, with only undrafted rookie M.D. Jennings behind him, Peprah is the unquestioned starter.
“I was uncertain how everybody else was going to look toward me (last year), the confidence level they would have in me," Peprah said. "But as far as the way I prepared, I always felt confident, because I prepared like I was going to play and things like that. I just wasn't sure how everybody else was going to believe in me. The team went and traded for Anthony Smith early on, so I just had to show them, `Look, I've got this. You guys can have confidence in me.' And I did that.
“Personally, I've always felt that I could do what I did. My confidence has always been the same. The validation for me might be more for other people, I guess, who didn't know what I could do. I've been here for a while but never really had my chance. It was good to let people see that, ‘Hey, this guy can play a little bit.’ That felt good. But everything else remained constant as far as my confidence in myself and what I can do."
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.