Jabrill Peppers is many things. For starters, he’s a triple threat, a player who changes the game in all phases. He’s also the Big Ten Freshman of the Week, an honor he earned for the second time this season Monday after totaling 100 all-purpose yards and breaking up two passes against Minnesota.
Monday, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh talked about the ways Peppers is special — a term that’s nearly impossible to measure — and no one batted an eye. But the redshirt freshman didn’t need Harbaugh to say he was special. His play has spoken for itself all season long.
Peppers is a safety, a cornerback, a nickelback, a punt returner, a kick returner, a running back, a wide receiver and, on occasion, a quarterback. Sometimes, he’s all of those in one game.
But redshirt junior Erik Magnuson has another way to think of him.
“Have you ever seen the Netflix documentary, ‘The Tiger and the Monk?’ ” Magnuson asked a group of reporters Monday. “It’s about this monk who lives in the jungle in Thailand that has 16 tigers. I think Jabrill would be a tiger.”
Strictly speaking, you don’t need to see the documentary to get the comparison.
“It just gives you a better idea of how cool tigers are,” Magnuson said. “They’re very, very, very peaceful. Accept their inner peace. But when it’s time to attack, they strike.”
For Peppers, that fits quite well. His normal position, safety, requires a great deal of flexibility. Sometimes he lines up over the top, sometimes in man coverage. But like Magnuson’s tiger analogy, he also knows when to attack, whether it’s blitzing or going back to return a punt or kick.
Against Minnesota, he flipped the field twice, returning a punt for 41 yards and a kickoff for 43, setting up a pair of touchdown drives for the Michigan offense. On one of the drives, Peppers scored his first touchdown of the season, a six-yard run on which he lined up as a quarterback in the wildcat formation. It was part of a recent swing that has seen him taking more offensive reps.
Working Peppers into the offense was hardly a surprise development — fans and media alike wondered how long it would be until they saw Peppers on offense, and even junior tight end Jake Butt admitted to wondering when the Wolverines would use him there.
But as far as getting him acclimated, Peppers has had to make use of limited practice reps with the offense.
“Since we only have him for a little bit, we’ll run through all of the plays that we have with him like, back-to-back-to-back-to-back,” Butt said. “And some of the plays he’ll be coming back like, hands on the hips, and coach will just tell him, ‘All right, you only need to go like five yards on this play,’ you know? Try to save his energy a little bit.”
Still, having him run those plays while worn out is good practice. Peppers was on the field for more than 90 plays against the Golden Gophers, which makes his numbers even more impressive.
“He’s just a … man, it’s hard to describe,” Butt said. “He’s got something that you can’t coach.”
But for as large an impact as he makes on the game, and the larger-than-life personality he portrays, Peppers’ teammates say it’s not an around-the-clock energy.
Jabrill Peppers might, in fact, have an off switch.
“He’s kind of a quiet guy around the locker room sometimes,” Butt said. “But when he’s on the field, that juice is flowing, for sure.”
Quiet until it’s time to attack? Maybe Magnuson was on to something, after all.