Michigan’s fun in the sun has ended, but there is still plenty of work to be done this spring. Aside from choosing a starting quarterback, perhaps the most intriguing question left to be answered centers around Jabrill Peppers.
The biggest on-field news to come out of practice in Florida was defensive coordinator Don Brown’s decision to start playing Peppers more at linebacker. Brown’s scheme is linebacker friendly, and Peppers has shown a penchant to grasp a variety of different positions.
In four days at the position, he did enough to earn rave reviews from coach Jim Harbaugh and teammates.
“He’s going to kill it,” cornerback Jourdan Lewis said. “At linebacker it's unheard of to have an athlete like that.”
“You stick an athlete out there he's going to make plays for us,” defensive end Taco Charlton said.
“We saw what he can do last year in terms of picking up a new position. It’s seamless for him,” Harbaugh said. “He’s very intelligent, is so competitive, he’s got it all. Athletic ability and awareness, you would say those are the two most important things after sheer competitiveness. He’s got all those three things at the highest level.
“Excited to see where it’s going to go. Don’s got the eye and knows his system and knows the type of player he’s looking for there. I think it’s a great fit. That position does so many things. It covers, it’s in man coverage, it’s in zone, it’s in run fits, it’s in blitz temp. It’s going to be exciting to see all the different places Jabrill can line up.”
Brown has the numbers to back up the move. Let’s take a look at his past four strongside linebackers, the spot where Peppers has been lining up so far this spring.
2015: Matt Milano, Boston College. Milano led the Eagles with 17.5 tackles for loss (No. 6 in the ACC) and 6.5 sacks.
2014: Josh Keyes, BC. Keyes led the Eagles with 11.5 tackles for loss and ranked second on the team with four sacks.
2013: Kevin Pierre-Louis, BC. Pierre-Louis had 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks en route to first-team All-ACC honors. He was later drafted in the fourth round.
2012: Sio Moore, UConn: Moore ranked first on the Huskies with 15.5 tackles for loss (second in the Big East), and second on the team with eight sacks (also second in the Big East). He was a first-team all-conference choice and later drafted in the third round.
Brown specifically cited the success he’s had with Milano, Pierre-Louis and Moore when asked about the design of his system and how Peppers would fit in.
“There's two ways to play this game and it involves pressure," he said. "One, you apply it, or two, you feel it. I'm not big on feeling it. So we're going to apply it."
Peppers earned All-Big Ten honors last season as a safety, but he also played on offense and returned kicks -- finishing with 72 yards rushing and two scores, eight catches for 79 yards and an 11.4-yard average on punt returns. During the open practices in Florida, Peppers lined up at linebacker and safety and also worked on fielding punts. He also won sprint drills as the fastest player on the team.
But he did not get any practice time on offense. Still plenty of time left to get to that.
“We’ll see,” Harbaugh said. “Everything’s a possibility. That’s an exciting thing when you play an opponent, for them to understand that everything is a possibility.”