Peppers to receive increased offensive role, but should he?
Ole Miss fans were probably giddy when they saw defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche take the field at tailback for the first time.
Why wouldn’t they be? The former No. 1 recruit was given the chance to show off his ridiculous athletic skills on offense. If defensive greats like William “Refrigerator” Perry, J.J. Watt, Charles Woodson and others could play a little offense, why couldn’t a freak like Nkemdiche?
Then the unthinkable happened. He got hurt…while playing offense.
Nkemdiche suffered a concussion playing tailback, which prevented him from playing on either side of the ball in a showdown against Texas A&M on Saturday. The Rebels were without their best player because they got cute.
Michigan finds itself in a similar dilemma with Jabrill Peppers. Like Nkemdiche, Peppers is a former five-star recruit and is the best athlete every time he steps on the field. The redshirt freshman got his first career offensive snaps against Michigan State and further solidified the belief that he’s an elite talent.
On Monday, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked about whether or not we could see the safety/kick returner get more reps on offense going forward.
“Yes, possibly,” Harbaugh said. “As always, you would like your opponent to understand all the possibilities and let them think about that. But very much a possibility.”
Before the Michigan State game, many were wondering if we were going to see Peppers take an offensive snap at all this season. Harbaugh eased him into that role because he was doing a million other things. Against MSU alone, he was a punt returner, kick returner, corner, safety, nickel and a hybrid linebacker role in Michigan’s dime package. That’s a lot to ask of a senior, much less a guy playing his first full season of college football.
Nobody is debating Peppers’ understanding of the game or his ability to execute at a million different positions. He’s the definition of a game-changer.
But what should his offensive workload be?
There are some that are probably under the assumption that Peppers should be getting 15 offensive snaps a game, because why not? Michigan’s offensive lacks explosive playmakers and Peppers is all sorts of explosive.
Hold the phone.
If Peppers is out there for 15 offensive snaps, he isn’t going untouched. Even on the plays Peppers is 20 yards away from, he’ll be asked to block or be a decoy. That means he’ll be taking more hits. Does Michigan really want to see its top weapon taking on an even more contact?
I understand that Peppers — or anybody — is at risk to get hurt every time he steps on to the field. As it is, nobody steps on to the field more than Peppers.
Still, it’ll be impossible for him to go under the radar on offense. Mark Dantonio called back-to-back timeouts when Harbaugh put Peppers in for the first time. The guy hadn’t even lined up yet and he was already changing the game. Peppers then followed that up with a 28-yard catch — but mostly a run — that had the Big House in a frenzy.
Naturally, when people witness something like that, they want more of it. They’ve been hoping that Peppers will be the second coming of Woodson. For all we know, he might be.
But there’s great risk involved in Peppers’ situation. Harbaugh is going to be careful about what he draws up for his star because his role on defense is far too valuable to mess up for a handful of offensive touches per game.
Of course Harbaugh is going to come out and say that there could possibly be more of Peppers on offense. That means an opposing team has to take up more time and energy to figure out a way to shut down a guy that might get a few offensive snaps.
He is a weapon. A dangerous one. What Harbaugh did with Peppers against Michigan State was perfectly planned and perfectly executed. The Wolverines could use more of that.