For Michigan, Jabrill Peppers’ defense comes first

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers is primarily a defensive player, a starter at safety, and also a kick returner, and, apparently, a when-they-need-a-spark offensive player.

But he is a defensive player, first.

The hint was given before the season by coach Jim Harbaugh that Peppers eventually could play in all three phases, and Peppers finally took the field in an official offensive capacity against Michigan State. He had two catches for 35 yards, he also had two tackles and six total returns for 129 yards.

Michigan defensive backs coach Greg Jackson said Wednesday before practice that he wouldn’t exactly say he’s sharing Peppers with the offense.

“I guess you could say Coach can have him anytime he wants, because it’s out of our control,” Jackson said. “He plays defense when he’s on defense, when he’s asked to come on offense, he goes to offense. He’s a defensive player, so it’s not a matter of sharing him. When they ask for him, he goes.”

UM coaches 'shocked' by Kill's departure at Minnesota

Harbaugh on Monday said Peppers continuing to make contributions on offense certainly is a possibility.

“As always, you would like your opponent to understand all the possibilities and let them think about that,” Harbaugh said. “But very much a possibility.”

Jackson said Peppers spends all his time in the defensive meeting room.

“I guess the couple of plays he’s in he may go sit with the offense maybe five, eight minutes and go over certain plays,” Jackson said. “That’s it, that’s all it takes. He’s a smart guy.”

Tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said it was enjoyable to see Peppers’ contribution to the offense in the MSU game. He said waiting to have Peppers take some offensive snaps was in part because it was something they wanted to keep hidden and also because they wanted to make sure he could handle all the responsibilities.

“It seems like maybe you let the season unfold a bit and see how he fits in,” Jay Harbaugh said Wednesday. “Is he going to play every snap on offense? Is he never going to play offense? How comfortable is he in the defense? Where is he going to fit in there? You can’t start moving the guy around and try to ask too much and then you end up getting less out of him.”

Harbaugh said while he would be fatigued taking so many snaps during a game, some athletes like Peppers are gifted physically.

“He seems to be able to do it and he loves to play,” Harbaugh said. “So he’s always wants to do more, special teams, defense and offense, you name it.”

But when and how to play Peppers on offense still is something the staff monitors.

“He’s one of the best defensive players in the country, so you want to make sure you’re not disturbing that and getting too cute on everybody,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve got some really good players on offense, too.”