Peppers' special recipe: Talent, desire, leadership

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Teammates "gravitate" to Jabrill Peppers, defensive backs coach Greg Jackson said.

Ann Arbor -- Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers has been waiting and waiting and waiting, not always patiently, to get back on the field.

Peppers, considered one of the top players in the country coming out of high school, was tremendous hyped entering his Michigan career but played briefly early last season before leg injuries sidelined him.

Now Peppers is ready to make his second debut and coach Jim Harbaugh has even suggested the young safety can be a three-way player this fall, getting snaps on offense in addition to working in the return game.

Greg Jackson, who coaches Michigan's defensive backs, doesn't worry about losing Peppers to the offense. He said Peppers knows the defensive playbook and doesn't think he will spend that much time on the other side of the ball, so he is not concerned about the demands on his star player.

What Jackson knows is that Peppers is quite capable, regardless of where he lines up on the field.

"Jabrill's got special traits," Jackson said. "He's fast, he's really explosive, he's a leader, and guys gravitate to that when they see that because you see a young guy, a redshirt freshman, and you see all the guys follow his lead. That's something special. It's not like he's trying to do it, that's just in his nature, that's just who he is."

Learning experience

Peppers is eager to see what he can do this fall.

He had never had an injury that forced him to sit out a season, so he got an education on patience in 2014, and an understanding that there is life beyond football.

"As excited as people are to see me play, I'm maybe 10,000 times more excited to be able to play, to be out there with my brothers and accomplish what I said I'm going to accomplish," Peppers said.

"(Sitting out) was definitely a learning experience for me, but it made me all the more hungrier. It opened another drive within me."

Jabrill Peppers is eager to return to the football field.

Missing football because of injury was eye-opening for Peppers. He is vocal and passionate, characteristics that are apparent when he tweets about various issues. But having to watch his team from the sidelines made him take a different approach.

"I started taking things a lot more seriously," Peppers said. "Some things I may have taken for granted that I didn't think I was taking for granted. Now, whenever I get a chance to be out there, whether it's a workout or a practice, I give it my all because like last year, you never know when it's going to be taken away from you."

The expectation is Peppers will play three ways this fall, although it's unclear how much he might be used on offense.

Having played a variety of positions throughout high school, Peppers is open to anything.

"Whatever the coaches need me to do, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability," Peppers said. "If that's offense, then it's offense. If it's defense, then it's defense. If it's special teams, then it's special teams. If it's all three, then it's all three."

His teammates praise his constant high-energy approach to practice.

"Those are the types of guy you need to be successful," said senior linebacker James Ross III.

'He's a football player'

Peppers was recruited to Michigan by former coach Brady Hoke, but he has said he and new coach Jim Harbaugh share a competitive spirit.

"He's been all the things that have been advertised about him. He's a football player," Harbaugh said of Peppers, with an emphasis on the word "football."

The Wolverines, Peppers said, are taking their cue from Harbaugh.

"We're feeding off him," Peppers said. "We're definitely headed in the right direction. The sky's really the limit for us. It's looking up and up for the future."

And some of those positive vibes might be based on, although not entirely, how good Peppers can be even after almost a year off.

"The work you put in is what you get out," he said. "I work hard. The coaches are always on me to get better. They don't care how many things I do right -- just what I do wrong, and I need that. I need to be challenged. I need to be coached hard. I embrace that.

"I don't know how good I'll be, and I hate the word potential, but I really think great things are going to be in the store for the future."

Michigan vs. Utah

When: Thursday, 8:30 p.m.

Where: Rice-Eccels Stadium, Salt Lake City

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: WWJ 950, WTKA 1050

Series: Utah leads 2-1

Line: Utah by 5.5