CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Rookie end Julius Peppers, who quickly has become one of the most feared defensive lineman in the National Football League, Thursday was hit with a four-game suspension for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
Peppers, the NFL's sack leader with 10, tested positive for either ephedrine or a derivative of the stimulant ephedra, according to a report by ESPN.com.
Carolina Coach John Fox was prohibited by league policy from either confirming or denying the incident when asked about it by reporters after practice Thursday, but several sources indicated that he will play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while the suspension is being appealed.
That appeal was confirmed in a statement released by Peppers' agent, Marvin Demoff. Team officials said he can continue to play as long as the suspension is under appeal.
"My understanding is he will be our starting left end Sunday," Fox said. "That's where all of my focus is, and his is, too, on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
"While I would like to provide the fans with more information, due to the legal ramifications, I cannot comment on the situation, and I will not be able to until the appeal process is complete," Peppers said in the statement. "At that time, I will gladly accommodate any questions and discuss the situation. I apologize for the distraction that this may cause the Panthers' organization or my teammates."
A four-game suspension is automatic when a player tests positive for a banned substance or steroids. He is be the second Carolina defensive lineman to be sanctioned in recent days.
Defensive tackle Brenston Buckner is serving a four-game ban handed down on Nov. 4 for taking a banned stimulant.
Peppers, 22, is a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year honors. The 6-6, 283-pounder was the second overall pick in the 2002 draft out of North Carolina, and signed a seven-year contract that could be worth up to $62 million.