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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Eight games into the NFL season, Julius Peppers leads the NFL in sacks with nine.

Not bad for a rookie.

Now imagine how good Peppers will be once he has a clue what he's doing on the field.

``Once I really maximize my potential, and I don't know if that will be a year from now or three or four years from now, I think I can be one of the great ones,'' Peppers said.

His teammates believe him.

``The thing is he really doesn't have a concept of the game yet,'' defensive tackle Brentson Buckner said.

``I mean, it's like he's just a great athlete out there playing around. Like you just went and picked him off the street and said, 'Hey, you want to play this game?' That's the scary part about it. He's doing all this on just basic instinct. ... Once he learns how to read formations, how to read the guys in front of him, I don't think nobody is going to be able to block him.''

Along with already having tied the franchise record for sacks by a defensive lineman in a season, Peppers has also forced four fumbles, knocked down three passes and intercepted one.

Peppers was selected second overall in the NFL draft behind Fresno State quarterback David Carr.

Some believed the Panthers would have been better served a quarterback, a cornerback or an offensive tackle. But it's hard to imagine anyone having a bigger impact than Peppers has made for the Panthers.

``Julius has been a great addition to our defense,'' said Carolina first-year head coach John Fox. ``He's improved every week. He has been the real bright of our defense as far as what he has brought to us. I really couldn't expect any more from him.''