East Rutherford, N.J. — Giants safety Jabrill Peppers has enjoyed beginning minicamp with his new team.
“It’s been tremendous,” said Peppers, who was traded to the Giants as part of the Odell Beckham, Jr. deal in March. “I definitely feel fortunate. It’s definitely exciting to be here. I spent some of the best years of my life here.”
Peppers is a native of East Orange, N.J., which is located just 10 miles from the Giants’ practice facility and MetLife Stadium. In fact, Peppers played four straight years at MetLife Stadium while he was in high school, leading his teams to New Jersey state championships all four times. He was the state player of the year his junior year in 2012.
“I have a lot of great memories here,” Peppers said. “I just want to keep the streak going.”
Peppers went from his high school days in New Jersey to the University of Michigan, where he played for the parts of three seasons, playing both offense and defense as well as returning punts and kicks. He finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2016.
The 5-foot-11, 213-pound Peppers was drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the 25th pick in the first round of the 2017 draft. Although it was unclear at the time whether Peppers’ true position was linebacker, cornerback or safety, then-Browns head coach Hue Jackson said that Peppers was going to be the starter at strong safety, where he remained for all 29 of his NFL starts with the Browns.
As he begins a new chapter of his NFL life, the 23-year-old Peppers is determined to make sure he’s not just considered a throw-in to the Beckham trade, that the Giants did the right thing in bringing him home.
“Even before the trade happened, I was ready to pick things up this year,” Peppers said. “I had a responsibility regardless of where I was going to be to be the best player I could be.”
So far in the team’s OTAs (organized team activities) and the first day of minicamp Tuesday, Peppers has impressed both teammates and the coaching staff with the versatility that got him recognized in high school and college.
“I like playing in various spots,” Peppers said. “I can drop back in coverage and mix up the looks. I definitely like that. I believe everything will go game by game, so we’ll see how it all works out. I’m not too worried about it right now. I’m just soaking it all in right now.”
Giants coach Pat Shurmur has enjoyed Peppers’ approach thus far.
“His leadership already is very exciting,” Shurmur said. “He has a very charismatic personality. It’s the first characteristic of him that stands out. He’s also extremely smart and understands all the coverages and reads. He also loves to play the game. He’s also very competitive and that’s a good sign.”
Shurmur has been impressed with the way his young team has gotten after it thus far.
“They’re very competitive and very spirited,” Shurmur said. “We’ve made a lot of changes and a lot of the guys are young, but they’re also spirited. They also have to have the mindset that no matter how young they are, they have to compete right away and I like that.”
Sterling Shepard is beginning his fourth year with the Giants, but he’s already now one of the more veteran players at age 26. Shepard and Peppers have been jawing at one another during workouts and Shumur likes that fire.
“They’re all in a good spot,” Shurmur said. “If you get into it like that and you’re competitive, then it’s all good.”
Shepard, who has caught 190 passes for 2,282 yards and 14 touchdowns over his first three seasons with the Giants, believes that Peppers will be a good addition to the team, despite the fact that his arrival meant the departure of the acrobatic pass catcher Beckham.
“It’s still a little weird, not having him (Beckham) here,” Shepard said. “He’s always going to be my brother. He’s a great guy. Just his presence was amazing. I think he was loved by everyone in this facility.
“But we have to move on and focus on the players we have. Jabrill is going to be a help, because I saw him at corner doing one-on-ones and also at safety. It’s been that way with him since Day One. I think it’s been important for us to go back and forth with each other. It helps our competitive edge. Neither one of us is going to back down at all.”
“I think the competition beings out the best in both of us,” Peppers said. “I just have that aggressiveness to keep everyone going. I definitely feel like I can do a lot of things defensively.”
Peppers is ready for the challenge of being a key player for his hometown team.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Peppers said of the trade. “I think it’s a blessing to play this game and get paid for it. A lot of other guys would love to have this opportunity.”
Browns running back Duke Johnson says he still wants to be traded.
Johnson, who demanded to be dealt in the offseason after Cleveland signed free agent Kareem Hunt, said he only wants to be “somewhere I’m wanted.”
The 25-year-old asked for a trade when he learned the Browns had been shopping him around after signing Hunt, who won’t be eligible to play until serving an eight-game NFL suspension.
Johnson skipped the team’s voluntary offseason programs in protest, but he’s reported for the Browns’ three-day mandatory minicamp. He said while his feelings have not changed, he intends to act professionally while on the roster.
Johnson said he showed loyalty by signing a contract extension last year after enduring 1-15 and 0-16 seasons, but the team hasn’t treated him the same way.
The Panthers announced the signing of three-time All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a one-year deal worth up to $10.25 million
The 31-year-old McCoy has been one of the better players at his position over the past nine seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and is the only NFL defensive tackle with at least six sacks in each of the past six seasons. He has 296 tackles and 54.5 sacks during his career.
... Longtime NFL linebacker NaVorro Bowman announced his retirement at the headquarters of the 49ers, where he spent eight-plus seasons and was a key part of a defense that went to three straight NFC title games and one Super Bowl.