ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Jabrill Peppers may be on the field for up to 100 plays a game this season for Michigan.
On defense, Peppers will move closer to the line at times as a linebacker and he’ll be a defensive back on some snaps. He will play in the slot, in the backfield and might even take some snaps on offense.
And when the Wolverines need a boost on special teams, they will lean on Peppers to return punts and kickoffs.
Peppers is game for all of it.
“Whatever we got to do to win,” he said Sunday, a day before the team’s first practice.
If someone asks what position Peppers plays, what would he say?
“I just say, ‘I’m an athlete,’” he said.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said Peppers won’t be the only three-way player on the team, expecting cornerback Jourdan Lewis to spend some time on offense along with his usual duties on special teams.
“I don’t know why they haven’t been letting Jourdan play both plays,” Peppers said. “Jourdan is one of the craziest athletes I’ve ever seen. … I hope they give him a shot.”
With Peppers, the Wolverines will attempt to find the right balance between taking advantage of his versatile talent and not wearing him out.
“Somewhere in there, there’s a sweet spot,” Harbaugh said. “In terms of load, 95, 100 (plays) is probably the max we’re looking for.”
On some snaps, Peppers will be on the field simply as a decoy to distract defenses.
“That’s the best part of everything,” he said. “That’s where I can work on my acting.”
Peppers said he was on the field for 96 plays last season at Minnesota. Against Ohio State, he had a career-high seven carries, caught two passes and threw one, along with making five tackles.
He didn’t play in Michigan’s win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl because of an injury to his right hand.
How did he hurt his hand?
“That’s going to be forever undisclosed,” Peppers said with a chuckle. “I’m good now, though.”
Peppers said he has added 8 pounds – and the extra weight appears to be all muscle – and is probably faster than he was last year.
What’s his fastest 40-yard dash?
“4.31,” he said.
Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno, who was a San Francisco 49ers assistant coach for Harbaugh, has been around a lot of great athletes and said Peppers ranks among the best of them.
“He’s one of the most explosive, dynamic players I’ve ever been around,” Drevno said. “He’s in a league with the Frank Gores, Michael Crabtrees and Vernon Davises.”
Drevno wishes he could have Peppers on the field for every snap, but he knows his day job, so to speak, is on defense. On the roster, Peppers is listed as a linebacker and defensive back. Defensive coordinator Don Brown said it isn’t fair to say his position is linebacker or a hybrid.
“We’re going to give this guy a lot to do,” Brown said.
Based on Peppers’ upbringing in New Jersey, he’s thankful to be where he is, playing football for a storied program and attending a famed university. Peppers’ father went to prison when Jabrill was 7 and didn’t get out until his was 14, he wrote last year in The Players’ Tribune, and his older brother, Don, was shot and killed at the age of 14.
“People where I’m from, they don’t have this opportunity,” he said, surrounded by a pack of reporters and cameras at Michigan’s media day. “This alone, I’ve made it from my circumstance. What I do here is show guys there are other ways to get where you want to be without following the usual statistical path that people where I’m from follow.”
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