Jabrill Peppers spends most of his time on the football field as a safety trying to keep the ball away from his opponents. But there are a few times a season when he winds up in possession of the football. That’s when something changes inside of him.
“I get an exhilarating feeling,” he said on Friday, barely able to contain his elation at the mere thought of running and cutting toward the end zone. “There is just something about having the ball in your hands, the importance of it, you basically have the fate of your team in your hands and it’s up to you whether you do something positive with it or you do something negative. That adrenaline, it gets my nervous system going. It’s something I look forward to. It brings good feelings.”
Peppers might be experiencing that a lot more this year.
The Giants have indicated that they intend to use Peppers in all three phases of the game, adding more special teams responsibilities and even perhaps some offensive plays to his call sheet. For Peppers, that would be a flashback to college when he was one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country and a Heisman finalist at Michigan. In his college career, besides playing on defense, he returned 39 punts and 18 kickoffs, caught 10 passes and ran the ball 45 times to score six touchdowns total.
The Giants would like to tap into that.
“I wouldn’t limit anything we do with Jabrill to be honest,” coach Joe Judge said on Thursday. “If he can add something to our team, whether it is a situational play, whether it is as a full-time player in a certain area of the field, absolutely. Anyone who can help the team, I have no problem doing it.”
Peppers was named one of the Giants’ six captains this week. That should come as no surprise. As the starting safety he is one of their top players and a fiery person who brings quality leadership to the locker room and the field. Wearing that “C” was, he said, one of the goals he set for himself when he first came into the league.
The wrinkle, though, is that he isn’t a captain on defense. He was voted a special teams captain. And while that might seem like a secondary role for him or any other established player on the roster, when it comes to these Giants, it’s one of the most important jobs they have.
“I mean, Bill Belichick coached special teams here and on the punt team there was a guy named Lawrence Taylor,” special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said on Thursday. “If a guy named Lawrence Taylor, who is arguably the greatest football player of all time, at least on the defensive side, can play on special teams, I don’t see it being [a slight]. It’s a part of playing the game. It’s a part of winning. You want to put your best foot forward in every phase.”
Judge has experience with players who have contributed to all three phases.
“Guys like Troy Brown who played both ways or Julian Edelman,” Judge said. “Jules played nickel on the defense in the last drive of the AFC Championship Game in 2011. Then he flipped over and played receiver on offense, he was a punt returner, he covered kicks. It’s kind of whatever it takes. One of the phrases we use with players all of the time is ‘the more you can do, the more valuable you are to the team.’”
All teams say that. Few actually mean it. The Giants have shied away from regularly using starters in exposed special teams roles in recent years. Yes, they are the team that put Lawrence Taylor on extra-point protection lines. But they also are the team that derailed Jason Sehorn’s career when he hurt his knee on a kickoff return in a preseason game. And while Peppers had just four punt returns and one kickoff return for the Giants last year, it was that one kickoff return that ended his season with a broken bone in his back.
That’s not something Judge fears.
“To me, it’s football,” he said. “Football players who love the game will play in any phase with the same amount of passion and effectiveness because they want to win the game.”
Peppers qualifies for that.
Judge joked that there is another impetus to push Peppers toward areas of the field besides safety.
“He’s the kid in the classroom who won’t sit still and keeps wiggling so you have to keep him busy all the time otherwise he gets disruptive,” Judge said. “His involvement in special teams a lot of times is just to make sure he stays out of the other coaches’ hair for about 10 minutes of each period.”
This way, Judge can make sure Peppers gives opposing coaches something to worry about instead.
Notes & quotes: Judge and several players marked the anniversary of 9/11 with poignant tributes and reflections. “It’s not about what happened to the country on 9/11, it’s about how the country responded,” he said while wearing an FDNY baseball cap. “I think that’s the lesson everyone has to take about how resilient this country is." . . . WR Golden Tate (hamstring) was limited on Friday, but Judge said he is “moving well” and “looks like he is coming along nicely.” LB Tae Crowder (hamstring) and TE Levine Toilolo (hamstring) also were limited . . . LB Markus Golden and DB Adrian Colbert practiced fully after missing Thursday’s workout with illnesses.