UM’s Peppers thrives when he's 'all over the place'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers is leading the nation in tackles for loss, he scored on a punt return last week, had two carries on offense and earned double Player-of-the-Week honors from the Big Ten.

Chris Partridge, Michigan’s linebackers and special teams coach who coached Peppers in high school at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic, said Peppers can handle pretty much anything.

“I know Jabrill really well, and keep telling these guys, ‘Use him more. Come on, man, he wants it,’ ” Partridge said Wednesday of the Michigan staff. “That’s his thing — give him more, give him more. Because he’s going to study it. He’s going to spend the time. He’s going to come in and embrace any role we give him.

“We could put him at center on the offensive line, and he would not say, ‘I’m playing center?’ He would say, ‘All right, well you’ve got to teach me the blocks.’ He thrives off of it. Of course we’ve got to be smart with the different positions and how much. You can’t be a three-way player and play every snap in a game. Jabrill thrives off that and doing more.”

Peppers made his first appearance on offense last week in the win against Colorado, but it was his play on defense and special teams that turned heads. He leads the country in tackles for loss, averaging 3.2 a game, and returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown last week. Peppers leads the team in tackles with 28 and so far has 9.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

“It’s almost criminal what we ask him to do,” Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown said. “He’s out playing press coverage on the No. 2 slot receiver. Then he’s in the blitz game. Then he’s playing static linebacker. Then we’ve got him all over the place learning what we’re trying to do from a defensive perspective. And then he has other responsibilities other than defense.”

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But Peppers feeds off the workload.

“When he shows up, it’s usually in an ornery mood, and he’s explosive when he gets there,” Brown said. “Those are kind of good things.

Partridge said Peppers makes Michigan “more dynamic” in the return game.

Teams may opt to stop kicking his way, and if so, that strategy still works in the Wolverines’ favor.

“If they do that, the field position game is going to be pretty incredible,” Partridge said. “Kickoff returns, we only have two and they’re giving us the ball on the 35, 40 yard line, so if a team is willing to do that, we’ll take it.

“We’ll try to make some adjustments. Shoot, if they don’t punt to him at all, maybe we’ll put 11 up there and come at him. They’ve got to make a decision. I don’t think teams can just stop kicking it to him because they’re going to give up too much field position.”