Jabrill Peppers arrived on campus before last season as a mega-recruit, one expected to make an immediate impact all over the field for Michigan. He had committed to the Wolverines in a nationally televised rap as the No. 2 recruit in the nation the year before, and some even compared him to Charles Woodson, the gold standard for Michigan cornerbacks. He stuck by his decision even when other schools attempted to sway him in the midst of the Wolverines’ turmoil.
But then things fell apart for Peppers. He suffered a leg injury in Michigan’s opener against Appalachian State and received limited action against Miami (Ohio) and Utah before he was shut down for the season.
So it was natural that Peppers, in his season debut last Thursday against Utah, was overeager. He admitted Tuesday that he attempted to come out of the gate with a bang, reaching for the big play instead of making the safe and correct one.
“Once I started to settle in, be patient, read my keys, trust the technique, that’s something they always tell me,” Peppers said. “Sometimes I think that my speed and my athleticism will make that play for me when I should use both in terms of using my technique and then allow my speed or my quickness to make the play for me.”
Peppers finished his season debut with eight tackles, including two for loss. Despite mistakes early in the game — he mentioned a time he left his man open in coverage to attempt a sack of Utah quarterback Travis Wilson — Peppers proved capable of using his speed to seal off screens and his strength to make tackles in the open field.
One thing that irked Peppers from the game was the defense’s lack of turnovers, save for redshirt junior Jeremy Clark’s interception on a Hail Mary to end the first half. Turnover margin plagued the Wolverines last season as well.
“It’s about playing the way we know how to play,” Peppers said. “Stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and stop making excuses for why we’re not playing the way that we’re capable (of) playing.”
Peppers attempted to remedy that, playing the entire game from start to finish. For someone looking to whet his competitive appetite after almost a full year away from game action, that was a desirable starting point. Peppers did not know how to name his particular role on defense, saying that it was a combination of safety, nickelback and cornerback. Each week’s game plan will dictate exactly where he plays.
On special teams, Peppers fielded punts and kicks for Michigan. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called his work on the punt team “outstanding” and “spectacular,” particularly with respect to a diving first-quarter fair catch of a punt that could have prevented the ball from bouncing deep into Wolverine territory. When he was given the chance to display some moves in the return game — instead of the necessary fair catches on the punt return — Peppers knifed through Utah’s coverage for 36 yards in the fourth quarter.
Though the workload on defense and special teams did require Peppers to make some adjustments in terms of how he exerted energy, he was not overly concerned.
“It’s all of the things that I myself wanted to do and that the coaches allow me to do, because they know I’m able to do it,” Peppers said.
Peppers did not see any action on the offensive side of the ball in the opener, despite Harbaugh’s admission in the preseason that Peppers could very well play offense this season.
Peppers was coy when asked if that is still the plan.
“It just depends on how things go,” he said. “The offense, like I said, they were a couple of plays away from changing the game.
“If they need me to help in some way, I’d be more than happy to do it, whether it’s receiver, running back, quarterback, doesn’t matter. As far as that goes, I’m just playing it by ear. When they call my number, I’m going to be ready.”