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Panthers DE Peppers downplays leadership talk

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) -- Julius Peppers speaks. One week after he was challenged by owner Jerry Richardson to become the leader of the defense, the Carolina Panthers defensive end said he thought the issue was overblown. Talking to reporters today, Peppers says he doesn't think Richardson mean to say he's the leader of the team. He says there are other leaders on the team like wide receiver Steve Smith and quarterback Jake Delhomme, as well as other players who can step up. At last week's news conference to announce the retirement of safety Mike Minter, Richardson implored Peppers to take over Minter's leadership role. Peppers said he hadn't discussed the issue with Richardson before those comments. Peppers also shied away from questions about a future contract extension. He has two years left on his deal, and could command a contract similar to Dwight Freeney's six-year, $72 million deal with Indianapolis that includes a $30 million signing bonus. (Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)