Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 111 and slowly I am developing my own person- ality on the field." THE WOLVERINE: Was it difficult to as- sert yourself this spring considering your rel- ative youth compared to veteran teammates? PEPPERS: "We have a lot of great lead- ers on this defense. [Senior linebackers] Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden are un- doubtedly leaders of our defense, but the way I lead is by being vocal and by example, backing up what I say, making the other guys feel comfortable. "If it's third-and-five, I'll tell [junior cor- nerback] Jourdan Lewis, 'Sit on the sticks, I've got you over the top.' And things like that so he knows that I have his back. I think cornerbacks play more aggressive when they have confidence in their safeties. "We're all leaders, and it was never weird for me to assume a presence back there. Growing up my coaches used to tell us, 'If you're good enough, you're old enough. If you're putting forth the results, you have the say-so.' So I never felt weird about it. "This is just me being who I am. I can't help it. I've been like this since I can remember." THE WOLVERINE: Once again, the din is growing surrounding your anticipated per- formance in 2015. There is even talk that you're the best player defensively for Michi- gan. What do you make of that? PEPPERS: "I've heard some crazy stuff, but the people that come to Schembechler Hall every day, they know what's important. I don't pay attention to what people outside our football building say. I'm just putting in the work so that my results can speak for themselves. "We have a lot of great players on this team. I wouldn't dare say I'm the best defen- sive player. I think I'm top five, but I haven't done anything in my career yet, and we have guys defensively that are putting in just as much work as I am to get better and have already shown what they can do. "I do take pride in how I compete, and I want to be the best player on the team and the best player in the Big Ten." THE WOLVERINE: What will it take to make that reality? PEPPERS: "It's more than physical. It's a lot of mental study and film work. I have to be able to recognize routes, formations, the quarterback's drops and tendencies, what giveaways the linemen show when they pass block, what they do when they run block. It's all those things. "I know I have God-given talent, but I try to step outside my comfort box to learn all the things I need to be the best I can be." THE WOLVERINE: Michigan has not had an All-Big Ten first-team safety since 2004 (Ernest Shazor). How much does end- ing that drought motivate you? PEPPERS: "[Former U-M safety] Marcus Ray is in my ear all the time about it. Basi- cally telling me about how good the safety position was when he was here in 1997 and the great safeties he had followed when he came to Michigan. "He tells me that maybe we haven't kept that tradition going the last few years. He wants me to embrace the safety position, and that's what I am doing. I want to be the safety at Michigan because of what it means to him and guys that played before him and have played since, and the pride they have." THE WOLVERINE: What does it mean to you to be a safety like Ray, who was all- conference first team in 1996-97? PEPPERS: "It's a certain demeanor, a certain toughness, being a leader and a guy that makes plays for his defense. "I have watched the old clips — Marcus makes sure I know he's the best safety to have played at Michigan. We're in contact a lot. He stays on me and has food for thought. When I need to ask questions, he's only a text away. "I definitely understand the tradition at the safety position, and I want to bring that high level of play back." THE WOLVERINE: How likely is it that we see you line up some offensively in the fall? PEPPERS: "Nothing is set in stone, and I don't really know the coaches' plan, but offense is something that comes naturally to me. If they need me to do it, I'm here. If they don't me to do it, I'll showcase my skills in the return game or when I make an interception. "I'm going to make my case to play some offense, but that is up to Coach Harbaugh, and our offensive coordinators, Coach [Jedd] Fisch, Coach [Tim] Drevno, and then Coach Durkin. "It doesn't matter to me if it's wildcat quarterback, running back or slot, I just want to have the ball in my hands." THE WOLVERINE: Is it your goal to return punts and kickoffs also? PEPPERS: "There is competition, but I am definitely going to state my case. If I'm not the guy, then whoever is would have had to beat me out, and I am working like no other to win that job. I want the ball in my hands as much as I can. "Coach [John] Baxter, who coaches our special teams, has shown us some ridiculous stats that we haven't returned a punt for a touchdown since 2008 and a kickoff for a touchdown since 2009. That makes me hun- grier to show people that if you put the ball in my hands I can make some big plays." ❑ Peppers appeared in three games last season, making one start and recording eight total tack- les before he was shut down for the season with a knee injury. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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