Peppers has yet to catch up to hype with Browns
Allen Park — Jabrill Peppers is stuck between a rock and a hard place. But then again, that’s how it’s always been.
This weekend’s Lions game against the Browns brings the former Michigan standout back to town. After missing the last two games with a toe injury, Peppers confirmed on Wednesday on a conference call with reporters that he was ready to go and will start this Sunday at Ford Field.
Peppers has long been an enigma, both during his time at Michigan and with the Browns. His uncanny athleticism, mixed with instincts that can’t be taught have led to the hyping of a player that never produced gaudy numbers or the amount of splashy plays that fans came to expect.
At Michigan, Peppers famously didn’t record his first interception until his final collegiate game last November in Columbus.
His regular sparring with Buckeyes fans on social media made him a target of that fan base.
Now as a member of the Browns, Peppers has been put in a spot to play in front of OSU fans on a weekly basis.
“It definitely is (tough),” Peppers said when asked about being a Wolverine in Ohio. “Most of the people here don’t like me because of how they felt about me at Michigan.”
The only way for Peppers to silence his critics would be to please them with his play on the field. But at best, the early results are mixed, and it’s not for the lack of opportunity.
In the six games Peppers has played this season, he’s been on the field for 99.2 percent of Cleveland’s defensive snaps. He’s missed just three plays. There’s been times he’s been caught out of position, something he readily admits to when questioned about his usage in the Browns defensive scheme.
“The reason people are making a big deal out of it is because I missed a bunch of plays I’m supposed to make,” Peppers said. “If I make the plays I’m supposed to make, no one is talking about it.”
Peppers has continued to get a look as a punt returner and kick returner in the NFL, and although he hasn’t returned one for a score yet, Browns coach Hue Jackson says it’s just a matter of time.
“He hasn’t broken loose for the big one yet,” Jackson said. “But every time he touches it, I think our whole team is excited that something special can happen. We’ll get a chance to see him do something special here soon.”
For all the tribulations that come with being a rookie, Peppers says the Browns’ 0-8 record is probably the toughest part.
“That’s the name of the game,” he said. “That’s the most important thing, have one more point than the other team. Don’t care how you do it, just get it done.”
With Matthew Stafford and Co. hitting on all cylinders right now, Peppers will have his work cut out for him in the secondary as he sees his first game action in nearly a month at Ford Field.
“We’ve seen some passing games, but maybe not to the skill level of this one,” Jackson said. “But he’s just got to play within the scheme of our defense and go make plays. We’re looking forward to watching him play this week.”
Life in the NFL
While Peppers adjusts to life in the NFL, he still has plenty to say about the Michigan football program.
“That was one of the hardest decisions I had to make,” he said of his decision to leave before his senior year. “I just felt like it was my time. It was a hard decision, but at the end of the day I feel like I made the right one.”
Despite the Wolverines facing long odds at winning a Big Ten championship, Peppers insists that all the team’s goals are still in front of them.
“The great thing about college football is that crazy things happen,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of big ones coming up against Wisconsin, and then we’ve got the real big one at the end of the year with Ohio State. We dropped two, but we can’t do nothing about it now. Just have to move forward.”
Peppers also thinks that the Wolverines are in good shape with redshirt freshman Brandon Peters under center.
“He’s a good kid, more athletic than he looks,” Peppers said. “He’s a tremendous leader and I look forward to watching him grow. He has some of those things you can’t coach, and he has one of the best teachers in coach (Jim) Harbaugh.”
Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.