Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 111 of 163

110 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW THE WOLVERINE: What went into the decision to sit out for the season? PEPPERS: "Initially, they had told me six to seven weeks of rest and recovery, but in my head that was more like three to four. I figured if I went hard with my rehab I could accelerate the process. But it was taking much longer than I thought it should. "I really wanted to be out there with my teammates, and shutting down was never a part of my plan, but ultimately I was running out of games. I told my coaches that I would play in just one game, even if it was the last game, if that's what it came down to, but eventually I realized I had to do what was best for my health and for my career. "It was a choice the coaches came to me with, and they gave me time to think on it and talk to my family, and they thought it was the best decision." THE WOLVERINE: With a redshirt, you would be eligible for a fifth year. Is it your intention to use it? PEPPERS: "I'm not thinking four years down the road, but it's a goal of mine to earn my degree. I don't know what will happen with my fifth year. I'm just grateful to be granted a medical redshirt, to have that year of eligibility back. "Now I am that much more focused and hungry to prove to people that I do belong here, and prove I am what I say I am, and that's a hard worker and a guy that will help this team win. I'd rather die on the field than lose. "But I don't really think about how long I'm going to be at Michigan. I'm just taking it day by day." THE WOLVERINE: In the winter, you were dropping hints on Twitter of a perma- nent move to safety. How aware were you that anything you posted created tremendous buzz? PEPPERS: "I don't pay a ton of attention to social media, but I really wasn't trying to hide anything. I played safety in my high school days so it wasn't a big change for me; I didn't think it would blow up as much as it did." THE WOLVERINE: How was the deci- sion made to play safety, and how much input did you have? PEPPERS: "They had actually moved me to safety last year before I got hurt. The week I had my knee injury, I was practic- ing there, and I was going to be the starting safety for the Minnesota game alongside [se- nior] Jarrod Wilson. The coaches came to me and said, 'You would be the perfect guy to do what we think we need to do defensively to be successful.' "Minnesota had a good run game with their tailback, David Cobb, and they had a really good tight end, Maxx Williams, and our coaches wanted me to match up on him, but also help down with the run. "My eyes lit up like a Christmas tree — that was right up my alley. "I was practicing hard, getting my mind mentally prepared and my body physically prepared because you practice like you play. "Then that freak injury happened, and I was kissing my freshman year goodbye." THE WOLVERINE: With the new coach- ing staff, was the conversation about safety vs. cornerback revisited? PEPPERS: "Immediately, Coach [Greg] Jackson, the safeties coach, was telling the coaches I was staying put. And Coach [Mike] Zordich wanted me with his corner- backs. Ultimately [defensive coordinator] Coach [D.J.] Durkin said I would stay with the safeties, and, in his defensive scheme, I think it's a better fit for me because I can have a bigger impact." THE WOLVERINE: Why does safety fit you better? PEPPERS: "I should be able to make more plays around the football and be the quarterback of the defense. That's my nat- ural habitat. I love cornerback. I have no problem moving back if they need me to, but the safety position takes a different kind of person … to get your nose dirty and yet cover big tight ends, come down in the run scheme, blitz a little bit. "I definitely possess the tenacity neces- sary to succeed at safety. "When I'm on the field, I'm loud. I feel confident getting everyone lined up. I like keeping the spirits up of the guys. You have to have swagger on defense. You have to know that no matter what, if they get a big play on you, you're going to stop them and get the ball back the next play." THE WOLVERINE: In the spring game, we saw you playing nickel back. Was that another wrinkle in the defense? PEPPERS: "Based on the personnel we had when we divided teams, and based on the idea where we didn't want to showcase too much to our opponents, we did some things differently with who was playing where and the scheme. "I just lined up at nickel back. That's not the role I expect I'm going to have in the fall." THE WOLVERINE: There is great com- petition at safety with Wilson, redshirt junior Jeremy Clark, and juniors Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas. How will the defense utilize all that talent? PEPPERS: "Believe me, we are trying to get as many safeties on the field as possible, and the competition makes us better. We know that in every practice we're trying to beat out guys that could all be starting if they weren't at Michigan. "We say to each other, 'You coming for me? Well, I'm coming for you.' So it's daily competition — every practice, every work- out, every time we're watching film. We're all aware that there is someone working con- stantly to win those spots. "In Coach Durkin's schemes, he might have all defensive backs and then the defen- sive line on a play or for a series because the offense won't know how to respond. He has said that the best 11 are going to play so you know that you have to bring your best effort, attitude and enthusiasm to see the field." THE WOLVERINE: Did you learn to have swagger or does that sense of self- confidence come naturally to you? PEPPERS: "When you're younger, you look up to guys, and I tried to model my game after [Pro Football Hall of Fame de- fensive back] Ronnie Lott. "I have told people that I should have been born earlier so I could play old-school football, like from the 1980s. Nowadays, the game is so soft. You have to watch the way you hit, but I want to make a receiver second-guess coming across the middle. "I look to a guy like Ronnie Lott, who was mean and nasty and who receivers feared, Peppers said he has tried to model his game after NFL Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott, adding, "I have told people that I should have been born earlier so I could play old-school football, like from the 1980s." PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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