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Mark Snyder | The Detroit Free Press | July 26, 2016

Peppers regarded as the best of U-M's defense

  Jabrill Peppers leads a loaded Wolverine defense that finished fourth in total defense in 2015.

CHICAGO -- Jabrill Peppers was nowhere near the McCormick Place for Monday's opening of Big Ten media days.

The Wolverines brought three other players -- all seniors and extremely talented, All-America candidates -- but his presence looms over the Michigan football program, even from a distance.

Peppers is on another level and even at the slightest mention, the awe begins spilling out of even those who see him every day.

Yet they have to caution themselves from making the extraordinary seem routine.

"The other day we had a lower-body workout and then we had our player-led practices," tight end Jake Butt said Monday. "Somebody did like a cartwheel or something. Then Jabrill did a cartwheel, back handspring, backflip. And I was just like, 'OK, that makes sense.' "

That's the rare air Peppers inhabits these days.

Despite having two All-Americans in Butt and cornerback Jourdan Lewis, Peppers was the only Wolverine voted by a media panel as one of the top-10 preseason Big Ten honors list. Last week, he was announced as the preseason Big Ten defensive player of the year by a media panel.

The Peppers hype is so large that it has outdistanced his production.

That's where a previous Michigan coach -- likely any previous Michigan coach -- would try to contain the expectations.

But this is not any previous Michigan coach, and when asked about Peppers' ceiling Monday, Jim Harbaugh ran off a nearly 3-minute soliloquy about his most dynamic player.

"Anything is accomplishable for Jabrill Peppers in the game of football," Harbaugh told the assembled audience about Peppers, who is slated to play strong-side linebacker. "I think football players, professional football players, are the greatest athletes in the world, and Jabrill is that kind of athlete. He's that kind of athlete that has the greatest-in-the-world type of athleticism."

At this time last year, Peppers' promise was still on pause.

Injuries cut short that true freshman season so no one was quite sure.

Once Harbaugh arrived, there was no restraint. The coaching staff continued to build Peppers' workload until he played more than 90 plays in the game at Minnesota.

Coaches dialed it back after that and Peppers didn't play the Citrus Bowl because of a broken hand, but he showed enough.

As a redshirt freshman, Peppers lived up to the extraordinary hype having arrived a year earlier as the nation's No. 2-ranked player.

Peppers played at least 10 positions for the Wolverines in 2015 and excelled at them all.

"He can play just about anywhere on a football field and be effective," Harbaugh said. "Put him in a corner, put him in a safety. Put him in a nickel. Put him in a linebacker. Ultimately probably nickel is his best position. He can be a returner of the punts, returner of the kickoffs. He could be a gunner. He could be a hold-up guy.

"Offensively, probably right now could probably be our slot receiver and would give De'Veon (Smith) and all of our running backs a run for their money to be the best running back on the team. Could be a wildcat quarterback. Could play an outside receiver. Can run all the reverses and fly sweeps.

"So, I think you get the picture."

RELATED: Walk-on Hirsch overcomes illness, fulfills dream of playing for Wolverines

The difference between talent and becoming one of the all-time greats is the intangibles. Harbaugh figures Peppers' life experiences, from racial intolerance to having his father incarcerated and his brother shot and killed pushes him, and he's "always used that as fuel and motivation."

"I truly believe if he keeps working and keeps having the same intensity and focus that he's had and the seriousness about being a very good football player and student and person and all those things," Harbaugh said, "I think he could explode into a giant of a man."

This article was written by Mark Snyder from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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