Orlando, Fla. — Jabrill Peppers draped a Michigan football T-shirt over his head, a visor holding it in place to shield him from the intense sunlight on a 90-degree day here Wednesday.
Michigan is preparing for Friday’s Citrus Bowl against Florida, and players from both teams participated in the Buffalo Wild Wings Day for Kids and were made available for media interviews. So Peppers, who has been the subject of much injury speculation, could not be shielded from questions about his status for the bowl game.
“Right now, I don’t really feel like talking to the media, so my answers are going to be really short,” Peppers said, politely.
When first asked if Peppers expects to play on Friday he said, “Yeah,” but when asked later went with the less definitive, “We’ll see.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has said Peppers is “working through something”. Peppers has been seen with a cast/splint on his right hand, but he was not wearing anything on the hand Wednesday during the event.
“I’m just still working through something, that’s it,” Peppers said. “Always expect to play, though.”
Peppers is a starting safety who got playing time on offense the second half of the season and returned kicks. Will he be able to play defense and offense Friday?
“Always expect to play,” Peppers said. “Always.
“We always expect to play, that’s it, no matter what you’re going through. If you can play through it, you play through it, but you always expect to play and you prepare in a way that you’re expecting to play. I believe I can play through anything. I always expect to play.”
Peppers became a triple threat for Michigan this fall, and gave the run game a spark it badly needed. Harbaugh has said he doesn’t like sharing whether a player with definitely play or not play because it’s a competitive advantage for the opponent.
He hasn't given up much regarding Peppers.
Peppers was asked Wednesday if he could play in the bowl without practicing fully.
“Who said anything about me not practicing fully?” Peppers said. “I don’t know anything about that.”
He said he has been practicing as he has all season.
Speculation picked up when he was seen with a cast on his right hand and his right index finger in a splint.
“I’m working through something, that’s it, but it ain’t what you guys speculating, so I’ll let you speculate whatever you want to speculate,” Peppers said. “I’m not saying much on it.”
As the Wolverines’ game-changing player, Peppers has learned to adjust to the attention, whether it’s good or bad.
“I just want to play football,” he said. “I didn’t ask for all the stuff that comes with it, but that’s out of my control. The only thing I can control is what type of person I am and my play on and off the field. I just control the controllables and let everyone speculate as much as they want. I’ve gotten a lot better with dealing with it.”
He said he has done whatever the coaches have asked of him this season and if he needs to play more offense next season, he will do that.
“If that’s what’s best for the team,” Peppers said. “I’m a football player. I like to think I can play any position besides the line. Whatever’s best for the team. If they need me to play more, then I’ll play more. If not, then not. We have a great defensive coordinator (Don Brown) coming in and things are looking on the up and up.”
Michigan’s recruiting class for 2016 has a strong New Jersey presence, but Peppers, a New Jersey native, said while he talks to the high school recruits from his home state, he doesn’t tell them what to do or decide. Running back Kareem Walker, who recently announced he will attend Michigan, said Peppers has been like a big brother to him but always gave him room to make his decision.
“With the guys from New Jersey, we’re all pretty close, as far as Kareem (Walker), Ahmir (Mitchell), Brad (Hawkins), we’re all from the same area, (and) the goal is just to make it,” Peppers said. “Just getting a scholarship, we made it out. A lot of circumstances are not the best circumstances, so just getting a scholarship is good enough for me, just to make it out of those circumstances.’
“The thing I tell them is here you’re going to get taken care of because I’m here. I’m going to make sure you’re good, you’re staying on the right track, you’re not doing anything that’s going to bring any negativity to you or the team. I can’t speak for any other schools, but if that’s what they want to do, I just tell them to make sure they really read and see if their situation is genuine. In this game, recruitment is a business. I just tell them here it’s real love, the love is genuine, the best players are going to play and it’s competition non-stop, so if you want to come be the best player you can be, then Michigan is for you, you’re going to get one of the best degrees in the land and you can’t beat both.”