CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Julius Peppers: Enigma. The story continues for the Carolina Panthers.

Tomorrow, will the Eagles face the Peppers who was one of the NFL's dominating defensive ends last season with a career high of 14.5 sacks?

Or will the 2007 version of Peppers show up, the one who muddled through that season with 2.5 sacks?

And will this be the Peppers who in January tried to force his way out of Carolina by saying he didn't want to play for the Panthers? Or the one who, after that strategy didn't work, insists he's happy still being with the Panthers and will pour his full efforts into helping them defend their NFC South championship?

"There's a business side of football," Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "Things happen. Things get said. But he's here.

"Julius was never one to have this kind of hoopla surrounding him. He's never in the media and things like that. It's not like it was, 'Here we go again.' It was the first time. Maybe the waters were a little rough, but other than that [time], it's not him. Guys haven't given it a second thought."

Peppers, 29, never gave a specific reason why he wanted to leave a team he had been a part of for seven seasons, one in the state where he grew up and played college football.

One reason Peppers gave for wanting to leave the Panthers was that he felt he couldn't reach his potential. He hopes that might change with new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks.

"My thing is, you're never going to be the greatest no matter how hard you try," he told the Charlotte Observer. "You can get to that point for a certain period of time, but it's not going to be for very long. You're not going to be the greatest forever.

"You could always try to get better, and that's my vision. I want always to do better than what I've done. What I did last year was good, but I feel like I can do better and I've strived to do better, whether it be in the system I'm placed in or a different one."

But after the Panthers placed the franchise tag on Peppers - and with a one-year contract of more than $16 million - he insists that his heart remains in Carolina and that he's fully committed to the Panthers.

"Definitely," Peppers told the Observer. "I have no reason not to be. I'm under contract to play for this team. During this time, everything I can do to help this team win is going to be done on my part.

"That's been my attitude and approach in every season I've played. I have no reason not to put forth full effort in any game that I play."

Peppers is playing under that one-year contract after he and the Panthers couldn't agree to an extension this summer.

"I understood the situation I was in - fully," he said. "I understood all the options, and what could happen and some things that may not happen, so nothing surprised me."

Peppers is coming off his fourth all-pro season. His 70.5 career sacks are first in team history, as are his 24 forced fumbles and eight blocked kicks.

What sets Peppers apart is that he's an unusual athlete - fast, strong, and nimble - for someone 6-foot-7 and 283 pounds. Yet Peppers has often frustrated Panthers fans with a perceived inconsistency in the effort department.

In 2007, he managed just those 2.5 sacks, although he said he was recovering from an undisclosed illness that hit him in the preseason.

Last season, he switched from left defensive end to right - a position he said he favored and had played in college at North Carolina. That seemed to pay dividends when he responded with the 14.5 sacks and five forced fumbles.