You’d think a 23-year-old kid who just arrived with a new team as part of a blockbuster trade that kicked a popular supernova of talent and presence out the door and is being asked to replace a captain and perennial Pro Bowler who was left to walk away in free agency might need some time to adjust to his new surroundings.
It might take a few weeks or months for him to get comfortable with his new playbook, new teammates, and begin the process of developing into the kind of player — the kind of leader — that the front office believes it acquired, whose availability helped make those two departed stars expendable. It could even take a year or more for that player to put his thumbprints on the defense both in terms of scheme and personality, to become the guy others look to for both answers and energy.
That would be the normal timetable for such an overwhelming ask. And normally the Giants might be satisfied with it. But in this case, there is no need to wait around for any of that to happen. Because it already has.
This is Jabrill Peppers’ defense. And every day he is on the field this spring, including Tuesday’s first day of the Giants’ three-day minicamp, his ownership of the unit becomes more and more apparent.
“It doesn’t apply to Jabrill,” Pat Shurmur said of how Peppers has acclimated to not only his new team but his new role with the Giants. “His leadership was felt immediately. He’s got a very charismatic personality, he loves to play the game. He picked up quickly what we doing on defense, he communicates well, he’s extremely smart and very tough and very competitive. So when you see guys like that on the field you feel their presence immediately.
“He got to it quickly.”
Peppers arrived with the Giants as part of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade with the Browns and is replacing Landon Collins as the team’s standout safety. Either of those burdens alone might have crushed a new player. Add to the mixture Peppers’ return home to New Jersey and he’s saddled with a trio of daunting expectations.
None of them, though, seem to be weighing on Peppers. He appears to be having the most fun of anyone on the field. He’s certainly the loudest when it comes to hollering after plays and laughing at the exploits of his teammates.
“You always have to remember this is a blessing to be able to play this game and get paid for it,” Peppers said. “No matter how hard the days get, you don’t gotta do it, you get to do it. There’s a lot of guys that would love to get this opportunity that we have. Whenever you don’t feel like doing it, something has to come over you to just (say) this is a blessing to be out there. That’s what I try to do, even on days I don’t feel like doing it. Once I get out there, that pretty much goes away and diminishes. It kind of comes naturally.”
That includes trash-talking with offensive players.
There is very little in a minicamp practice that approximates what real NFL game action will be like on Sundays in the fall. These offseason workouts, even though they are mandatory, are done in a (mostly) non-contact environment with no pads, stripping away the violence and anger and aggression that makes the sport so popular with fans and participants alike. Tackling or blocking to the ground are frowned upon.
Peppers, though, is making certain that the Giants are yapping at full game speed this spring. He said it helps the players prepare for regular-season situations when opponents will use verbal tricks to try to distract each other. Plus, it ramps up the intensity at practices.
“Competition brings the best out in everybody,” Peppers said. “It never hurts.”
Other Giants have noticed it and welcomed it. All of it.
“He brings a lot of energy on the field and that’s been since Day One when he was a new guy,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “Having him bring that energy is great for us.”
The Giants have been looking for a player like that on their defense for a number of years now, someone who can embody the shape and soul of the unit. The most recent championship teams had Antonio Pierce and Antrel Rolle in that position. The Giants hope Peppers will be the next to infuse the defense with his personality and passion in a positive way.
So does Peppers.
“You definitely gotta pick up the play to be at the level I know I need to play at, and this organization needs me to play at,” he said. “Regardless how I got here, I’m here, and I’m ready to play my best ball, work as hard as I can, and help this organization win ball games on Sundays.”
This is his third NFL season, and Peppers senses it is time to make a jump and fulfil the promise he held as a Heisman finalist and a first-rounder coming out of Michigan. The potential that the Giants see in him. That might not have happened had he stayed in Cleveland. A few weeks ago he griped a bit on social media about the way he was used there. Here, with the Giants, the defense feels more like it is being built around him rather than his trying to fit into the defense.
“I love it so far,” Peppers said of the Giants’ defense. “Playing various spots, populating the ball, dropping back in coverage…We can definitely mix up the looks, hold disguises, things like that. It should definitely be fun.”
If Peppers can make the regular season as fun as this minicamp, the Giants should be in a good place.
Notes & quotes: The Giants have a lot of young players in key spots on defense, but Shurmur said there won’t be any allowances for a learning curve. “We don’t accept mistakes,” Shurmur said. “We’ll just have to go out and play ball and see what happens.”...TE Evan Engram did not practice because of what Shurmur called “soreness.” T Nate Solder (knee), T Mike Remmers (back), S Sean Chandler, WR Brittan Golden, DT Olsen Pierre and TE Eric Dungey also sat out...The Giants waived/injured LB Jeremiah Harris and signed LB Keion Adams.