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UM’s Peppers takes Heisman talk with a grain of salt

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Jabrill Peppers’ name surfaced in the Heisman Trophy conversation even before Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after the Rutgers game he should be the winner.

Peppers, however, is ignoring the Heisman talk, and has even diminished what he’s accomplished this year — the three-way player is Michigan’s second-leading tackler with 38 (seventh nationally at 1.7 per game), has 10 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, scored two rushing touchdowns and had a punt return for a touchdown.

But according to the ESPN Experts’ poll, Peppers is fifth in their voting, while the CBS Sports poll has him second behind Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.

“At the end of the day, you can’t get caught in what people are saying about you both good or bad,” Peppers said Tuesday. “You’ve got to stay 10 toes down and keep improving every week.

“I don’t think I’ve been playing as well as people have been saying I’ve been playing. If I had to give myself a grade, I’d probably say C minus. Definitely not where I want to be.”

During his radio show last Monday, heading into a bye, Harbaugh did not back down from his praise for Peppers.

“He’s the best I’ve seen,” Harbaugh said. “There are so many plays he makes, momentum-type changing plays. It’s a team game, a team sport, but he consistently looks like the best player on the field each and every week.”

The only predominantly defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy is Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997.

Woodson said he stays in touch with Peppers, texting him after games, offering pointers and advice. Peppers doesn’t avoid the comparisons, but said he might have one advantage over Woodson.

“Charles Woodson, if you just look at what he’s done for his teams, it’s just mind-boggling … big-time plays at big-time moments,” Peppers said. “Where I might say I edge him, is athleticism. He’s a little taller, rangier guy than I am, but I feel like if I was born back in the day, I probably feel like I’d beat him in a race.”

As Michigan prepares for the second half, beginning with Illinois on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, Peppers gradually has increased his offensive reps and said Tuesday there’s plenty more in the package Michigan hasn’t shown.

He said he wouldn’t give away much, but believes they will open up the package a bit more especially with three road games — Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State — over its final five games.

But there’s more to Peppers than football.

What Harbaugh has seen in Peppers is becoming the total package — on and off the field.

“After practice (last Monday) I wanted to talk to him and some of the other guys on the team about the new weight room that we’re going to build and some things the players thought would be beneficial for the facility,” Harbaugh said.

“He came up and we talked for a little bit, and he had to go to class and excused himself and was off to class.

“I see it all coming together. It gives you chills a little bit ... the player, the person, the student. There’s a peacefulness about him. There’s an intellectual side, an emotional side, the physical side.”

Harbaugh said he and Peppers will talk after the season is over about his future. Peppers is a redshirt sophomore but is eligible to leave early for the NFL draft after this season.

“We’ll address it at that time,” Harbaugh said.

Peppers said he isn’t paying attention to draft boards or discussions about his future from draft pundits.

Peppers said: “I don’t pay attention to that stuff. I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been asked to do, and that’s just play the best ball I can play. Hopefully they’ll notice when that time comes.

“My mindset is win as many ballgames as we can. Get into the best possible bowl game we can, try to get in the college football playoff.” @chengelis