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Jabrill Peppers emerging as leader and playmaker for Patriots

Fully recovered from a 2021 knee injury, Jabrill Peppers continues to become an impactful force in the Patriots secondary.

Patriots defensive back Jabrill Peppers (5).
Patriots defensive back Jabrill Peppers (5).

Jabrill Peppers made one of the biggest plays of the Patriots Week 1 loss to the Eagles, forcing a fumble in the fourth quarter when Philadelphia was looking to run the clock out on their victory. The forced fumble gave the Patriots offense another chance to pull out a win and was the kind of game-changing play that the team desperately needed at the time. It was another sign of Peppers' emerging presence with the Patriots, as he's slowly becoming one of their defensive leaders in the secondary.

"There wasn't much time left, so we knew that when they were empty they like the QB draw," said Peppers after the game. "He's a cutback kind of runner. I just took my leverage and tried to put my face mask on the ball. Get the ball out."

Despite the loss, Peppers played his biggest role with the team yet, playing 88 percent of the defensive snaps and nearly half of the special teams snaps, his highest total since arriving in New England last season. His ascension has been one of the top storylines throughout the summer.

It was a fairly inauspicious arrival in 2022, with Peppers coming off a major knee injury that held him to a slow start to the season. However, by Week 8 Peppers started to show why he was a first-round pick and an excellent fit for the Patriots defense as his playmaking nature began to shine through. Against the Jets that week, Peppers recorded a team-leading four stops on defense, while delivering a key punt return block and then also coming up with the game-sealing onsides kick recovery.

His role would continue to grow through the end of the 2022 season, enough to earn Peppers a two-year contract with New England this offseason. Now fully recovered from his injury, Peppers is having fun again with a new appreciation for being on the football field.

"I'm always having fun when I can play football," said Peppers this week. "I'm definitely in a space where I am more appreciative. You kind of take it for granted when you've been doing it for so long, but having an injury like that and then seeing what guys go through to get back from those types of injuries to come back and play at the level teams need you to play at is definitely a new respect and gratitude I take from the game for sure."

Replacing Devin McCourty was one of the biggest questions facing the Patriots this season and through the preseason and first week of the regular season, it's clear that Peppers will play a key role, both on the field and off it. Another of Peppers' notable plays from Week 1 came from McCourty's old free safety spot, as he broke to the sideline and broke up a deep pass intended for DeVonta Smith with perfect timing.

So far, the team's safety depth and versatility have eased any post-McCourty growing pains.

"We didn't give up too many explosives, no deep balls over our head, I'd say we're doing pretty good," said Peppers. 

But perhaps the most notable thing about the former Michigan Wolverine is the physical throwback style that he plays with. Peppers admitted he would've liked to play a decade or so earlier when it was a little easier to deliver big hits without worrying about penalties and fines, but he's still finding his own way in the modern NFL to bring the hits in a legal way.

"Can't hit the quarterbacks anymore, can't hit receivers anymore. If it looks too hard, they might flag it anyway," said Peppers. "Back in the day quarterbacks knew if they're in the pocket and we got a guy off the edge, he could get hit, but now we kinda have to roll off. We can't put our body weight on them. At the end of the day, you gotta do what you. You can still get a pop on him you just can't land on him, can't make it look too egregious. There's ways around it."

That physicality will be a big key this weekend against the Dolphins and Peppers and his fellow members in the secondary look to slow down Miami's attack. As he sees it, getting hands on Tyreek Hill is an important key to the game.

"I think that should be everyone's plan against him," said Peppers. "He's too fast to just let him run up and down and across the field. You try to make it as difficult on him as possible. He's a phenomenal player we know he's going to make some plays we just have to limit those.

"They put things in front of you to make you jump down so they can hit the shot they want behind you, so just remain disciplined, play with some patience, kind of let things develop before you just go down there shooting. Try to be physical with them. Trying to knock their timing off, things of that nature."

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