The defense has been without its best player — defensive end Julius Peppers, down with a hamstring strain — through the first two games. Whether he is in uniform for the first time since Comcast Bears Family Fest in Soldier Field three weeks ago will play out in pregame this Friday.
Peppers warmed up before the San Diego game but told coaches he was a no-go.
“Certainly I’m going to listen to what he says,” said coach Marc Trestman. Peppers worked at practice on Wednesday “so we’re encouraged that he’ll be ready to play, we’ll see how he feels.”
If Peppers is back for the Oakland Raiders game, even for spot duty, the expectations now tick up for the rest of the defensive line because of it. Peppers is worth his team-high salary in part because of what his trickle-down benefit can be for the overall defense.
Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton each delivered sacks of Philip Rivers and both have benefited from the added playing time with Peppers held out.
“We need them both and we need them both to be good players for us and to get better,” said coordinator Mel Tucker.
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton is driving his car and attending practice, but he is also being brought along cautiously through the concussion protocol after the one suffered early at Carolina.
What that has done is give added playing time for Nick Collins and unheralded and undrafted Zach Minter inside. Stephen Paea is established at nose tackle and Melton is the three-technique, but Collins has flashed and Minter, solid at Carolina, could secure a roster spot with another strong performance.
Still open is the No. 4 defensive end. Kyle Moore was disappointing starting at Carolina with Wootton injured and sixth-round pick Cornelius Washington will have his chance in limited work Friday and next Thursday vs. Cleveland to create a job for himself.