Jabrill Peppers at linebacker? That's just the beginning of Don Brown's big plans
BRADENTON, Fla. — It didn’t take Don Brown long to realize the obvious.
Upon his arrival, the new Michigan defensive coordinator saw immediately that Jabrill Peppers can play anywhere you ask him to. Listed as a safety last year, Peppers essentially played all over the field. The second-team All-American rushed the passer, he helped in the run game and he covered receivers.
Under Brown, Peppers will once again do it all. But, as was evident during their second spring practice on Tuesday, those duties will come lined up at the strong-side linebacker position.
“I just think we’ve got to give this guy a bunch of jobs,” Brown said of the 208-pound redshirt sophomore to be. “He’s a dynamic athlete and we’ll keep him around the line of scrimmage and let him do a bunch of stuff, whether it’s cover, whether it’s in certain personnel groups, play linebacker-type stuff.
“Our SAM is kind of a hybrid if you follow it. Last year, my SAM had 7.5 sacks and 17 TFLs, and he’s out covering slots. Between (Noah) Furbush and (Peppers), I think we can put those two guys together and create some dynamic ability out of that position. That’s what you’re searching for.”
Brown knows plenty about putting guys in the right spots. At Boston College last year, Matt Milano was the SAM linebacker for a group that Brown led to a No. 1 finish in total defense and tackles for loss. Like Peppers, Milano started off as a safety but was converted to linebacker.
The responsibilities, Brown said, aren’t much different than what Peppers is used to. He did spend essentially all of seven-on-sevens on Tuesday lining up in the box, which was the most noticeable change. But Brown plans on disguising Peppers’ role as much as possible.
Does that make it easier to change personnel groups without taking him off the field?
“Yes,” Brown said with a laugh. “That’s the beauty of it. We had a package today where he was technically in as a linebacker so you may think you’re gonna get one alignment where we can do completely different stuff because who says he has to be in there playing that position?”
It was just the second day of spring practice. Peppers will likely have days where he functions more as a defensive back.
Brown didn’t commit to saying the alignment change was a permanent one.
“Today he was, but two days from now, he may not,” Brown said of Peppers. “That’s how we roll with that.”
Michigan’s biggest Achilles’ heel is depth at the linebacker position. Having lost three senior starters, Ben Gedeon is the only returning Wolverine linebacker with a career start. Brown did say that the early development of inexperienced guys like Furbush and Mike McCray has been promising.
RELATED: Way-too-early 2016 look: Michigan
Still, Peppers is someone Brown will turn to to fill any holes needed. It’s only been two days at the new position, but Brown already compared him to a couple of NFL linebackers he coached. He said that Seattle Seahawks linebacker Kevin Pierre Louis and Indianapolis Colts Sio Moore both had skill sets that aligned with Michigan’s versatile sophomore.
“They’re similar guys. Jabrill is a little different because he’s better at the pass-coverage piece of that,” Brown said. “But he’s faster than both of those guys so we’ll see how that goes. We’ll see where it takes us.”
Peppers’ versatile presence helped Michigan go from a five-win team to a 10-win team last year. His ability to play six or even seven positions within a game made him a matchup nightmare for B1G coaches. It was Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio who called back-to-back timeouts after Peppers lined up on the offensive side for the first time.
It remains to be seen if he’ll line up in a variety of sets on offense again in 2016. But if Tuesday was any indication, any spot is possible for Peppers on Brown’s defense.
“He’s sharp. He’s a great dude,” Brown said of Peppers. “He’s fun to work with. He’s got juice. I like guys like that. They’ll get you excited going to work everyday.”