The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 11 M On June 2, Jabrill Peppers walked across the stage to accept his diploma at Paramus Catholic High School. Two days later, he crossed the finish line in first place in both the 100- (10.55 seconds) and 200-meter dashes (21.13 seconds) at the New Jersey Meet of Champions, repeating as the all- classifications title winner in both events. On June 21, Peppers arrived on Michi- gan's campus and was set to start summer classes June 26, beginning the next chapter in his life. "It was a good feeling to graduate. That was the first of many steps of what I need to do to get where I want to be," he told The Wolverine in early June. "It was a mixed feeling of me not wanting to leave but know- ing I need to follow this plan God has set for me." Peppers would have liked to have enrolled early at U-M with seven of his future class- mates, but the archdiocese did not allow it, and the Paramus, N.J., native was forced to wait. "That could have been a tremendous help to my development if I came here early, but it is what it is, and I didn't dwell on that," he said. "I talked to the guys that did come, and I was able to ask questions like, 'How are the practices, what is the workout regiment, how does it differ from high school?' "Just to get that insight was really helpful. I think I know what to expect and what it will take for me to realize my goal of playing as a true freshman." While Michigan's staff has spent count- less hours since Signing Day in February debating where Peppers fits in best in 2014, the five-star recruit, ranked the No. 3 player overall in the class of 2014, has a prefer- ence, believing he can impact more quickly at safety. "To me, it doesn't matter as long as it's in the secondary, but if you ask me, if it's my choice, I'd like to play safety just because we have two veteran corners. [Sophomore] Jourdan Lewis played phenomenal in the spring game, and you have [junior] Jarrod Wilson at one safety, and if I was the other safety, I think we could have a 'no-fly' zone back there," he said. "I played everything in high school, and I never had the time to perfect the craft at any one position. I was moving around, playing wide receiver, quarterback and running back, and then everything defensively. I had to split my focus instead of practicing all the time at my true position. "I could get away with that because of my athleticism, but if I can add the technique that my coaches teach me, that would be a deadly combination. That's why I just really want to play one position, and as long as it's on defense I'm OK with whatever Coach [Brady] Hoke asks. I just want to get on the field." Many have envisioned Peppers as the next Charles Woodson or Marlin Jackson, lock- down corners that took away one side of the field. He isn't writing off the possibility of playing corner at some point, but believes there is value in playing safety for now. "I would love to play safety this year, I'll say that, but going forward, that is a tricky question because I love both positions," he said. "I like the attitude and macho, confident swagger you have to have to play corner- back. You're on an island, and I love that responsibility and feeling that it's man-to- man and I can shut a guy down all on my own — one of the opponent's most impor- tant players. "But at safety, you get to fly down that pipe and you get to make receivers fearful coming across the middle. It's a position based on intimidation, and I love that. "If you are a safety that loves to hit, has good ball skills and can cover a lot of ground, you can be a weapon that impacts every game. You don't just shut down one receiver, but now you can shut down two or three, really an entire passing game. "But I'm not a selfish guy. If Coach Hoke tells me they need me at safety this year, I'll play there, and if he says they want to play me at cornerback next year, I'll do that. I just really want to get out there and help my team win football games and give the fans the type of seasons they were used to." Wherever he plays, and defensive coordi- nator Greg Mattison indicated it will likely be safety or nickel back, at least for this sea- son, Peppers will benefit from an enhanced focus. "My expectation for him is that he's going to come in, and Greg Mattison is going to give him one position to master," pregame radio host Jon Jansen said. "He's not going to be playing corner and safety and moving around in different coverages." And for those hoping he plays offense too, like Woodson, Jansen is quick to put out that the 1997 Heisman Trophy winner did not see a snap offensively as a rookie in 1995. "We used Woodson on offense and de- fense as he progressed through the system, but that first season, all Charles had to con- centrate on was being the best corner he could possibly be and learning how to play college football," said Jansen, who was a redshirt sophomore offensive tackle when Woodson arrived on campus. "It's not just game day — you have to learn how to prepare, watch film, be able to absorb a game plan, know the changes from week to week, plus you have to figure out how to be a student. There will be a lot thrown at him, and what I want to see from Peppers is for him to master one spot. As soon as he does, they'll start moving him around, being creative with him." Peppers saw action at multiple positions, including on both offense and defense, in high school, but he is ready to focus on one position in the defensive backfield when he arrives at U-M. PHOTO BY CYLE NUNEMAKER Five-Star Jabrill Peppers Is Eager To Contribute 8,10-12,14-28,30-32.IMA.indd 11 6/19/14 4:57 PM

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