GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It took Charlie Peprah five years to become a starter in the NFL, and now that the Green Bay Packers most-veteran safety got a taste of it over the past two seasons, he does not want to return to a backup role.
But despite starting 28 games during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Peprah has never actually earned a starting spot out of training camp. Two years ago, Peprah took over the starting job in Week 5 after Morgan Burnett tore his ACL and was out for the remainder of the season. Then, in 2011, Peprah again become a starter but not until Nick Collins was ruled out for the year heading into Week 3.
Now, with Collins no longer a Packer, Peprah will look to use his six years of NFL experience to beat out a talented group of young players and win the starting role at safety from the get-go.
"Everybody wants to be on the field, and not being on the field much (from 2006-2009) definitely did drive me," Peprah said. "Ask Desmond Bishop; We used to talk about it all the time, wanting to get on the field. Everybody wants to play.
"I'm thankful for the path that I took because it prepared me for what's coming now."
At age 29, Peprah views himself as a young player because of how infrequently he played in his first four NFL seasons.
"I still feel like I have so much more room to grow," Peprah said. "I still have room to improve. I've gotten better every season the past two seasons. This third year is going to be my best one yet."
Peprah, however, was roundly criticized last season as being one of the main reasons the Packers' defense gave up more passing yards than any team in NFL history. Coach Mike McCarthy called it "miscommunication" on several occasions throughout the year as passes continued sailing over the head of Peprah and the rest of Green Bay's secondary.
"They can say the pass-rush or technique wasn't as good, but we just gave up too many big plays," Peprah said. "We didn't make the same plays that we made the year before. There's a lot of different factors, and every year is a different challenge.
"I know that we underachieved as a defense, and that alone is a motivating factor. It's the NFL. We went from top 5 defense to 31st, and next year we'll turn it around. I think everybody has a chip on their shoulder. That alone is going to make us way better."
On the first day of the Packers' offseason training activities, Peprah was not participating. While McCarthy wouldn't reveal if Peprah's physical from the day before revealed any sort of injury, it did give plenty of important practice snaps to the rest of the safeties.
With Peprah out, safeties Anthony Levine, 25, and M.D. Jennings, 23, were splitting snaps with Green Bay's first-team defense, even doing full 11-on-11 drills against Aaron Rodgers and the offense. Jennings made a very impressive play when he intercepted Rodgers, certainly catching the watchful eyes of the coaching staff.
There is also rookie safety Jerron McMillian, the team's fourth-round pick, that Peprah now has to also compete with.
"I don't really pay attention to any moves they make," Peprah said. "I just stay focused on myself, and that's how I've been successful in this league and that's how I'm going to keep on doing it, is to worry about myself, worry about self-improvement and just get better every year.
"Regardless of what happens, I know what I have to do. I'm preparing myself every year like it's my last."
One aspect that defensive coordinator Dom Capers talked about over draft weekend regarding Peprah is that experience cannot be taught. And Peprah has, by Capers' count, played more than 900 in-game snaps over the past two seasons.
So even with Levine, Jennings and McMillian hot on his trail, Peprah should have the upper hand to be the starter as the Packers enter training camp later this summer.
"We've got different skill sets, but it took Nick Collins until his third or fourth year to go to the Pro Bowl," Peprah said. "It just takes time. As long as I keep improving, that's my main goal.
"I really do believe this year is going to be my best one yet."
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