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Peppers makes presence felt for Pats defense, special teams

Former first-round pick Jabrill Peppers was an under-the-radar signing this offseason whose opportunity is arriving in New England.

Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers.
Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers.

The Patriots' safety depth was obvious from early in training camp, with three returning starters back in the mix along with second-year player Josh Bledsoe who was involved a lot early in the summer.

Jabrill Peppers started to come on later as he recovered from injury, giving the team five options to consider for one of the most important and scheme-defining positions in New England. At the time it seemed like there might be too many bodies, but now it's clear how valuable and impactful that depth can be.

Peppers, the 2017 25th-overall pick out of Michigan, suffered a season-ending knee injury with the Giants in 2021, limiting him to just six games. Long an interesting schematic fit for the Patriots' gameplan defense, he signed a one-year deal with the team this offseason.

There wasn't a clear spot for him at the time, but the fit was obvious and as injuries struck Peppers' time to shine arrived. On Sunday against the Jets he started to flash the potential that made him so highly regarded out of college. Peppers was credited with a team-leading four stops against the Jets, along with five solo tackles, also the best on his unit.

But his impact wasn't limited to just defense, as the always-versatile Peppers also delivered a key block on Marcus Jones' 32-yard punt return and also recovered a victory-sealing onsides kick.

"I thought Jabrill had several big plays for us and physical plays, so yeah, good to see that production out there, have him out there," said Bill Belichick on Monday. "He helped us in the kicking game and certainly helped us out defensively against the run and the pass and on the pass rush. Just good to have him on the field."

Peppers isn't the tallest guy, in fact, it's why he might not have a true position on many defenses, but his instincts and aggressiveness are a clear fit for what the Patriots do and on Sunday he provided a spark while filling in for Kyle Dugger.

"I like to think I'm a physical player," said Peppers, meeting with the media on Monday for one of the few times this season. "I think that's been my background for a while, but I just wanted to play within myself. To be aggressive but to play within the scheme. Just trying to make the plays that came to me."

"Have you seen the guy? The guy looks like the Incredible Hulk," joked Matthew Slater during his recurring Monday team temperature check. "It's muscles on top of muscles. Physicality's an understatement when you talk about his game. He certainly embraces it and the way he's able to really roll his hips on contact in short area spaces, whether that's defensively or in the kicking game, it's super impressive. So, he brings a level of physicality that few guys his size can bring. We're lucky to have him."

Slater didn't hold back when pointing out the impact Peppers had on the big punt return.

"That was maybe the best block we've had in the return game all year on probably one of the best, if not the best, gunner in the league right now in Justin Hardee," Slater said. "Pep stepped up and to have that mindset to meet the challenge, it was huge. He's been so selfless since he's been here. He's just doing whatever he's been asked to do; doing it with a smile; coming out energetic; trying to stay positive. That was a huge, huge block. It really fired up the whole team, the whole sideline. Really gave us a shot of juice."

"It looked pretty good on tape, definitely did," said Peppers with a smile, noting he felt like he got a good lick in to help spring Jones.

While Dugger's return will still be hotly anticipated, Peppers' play should be enough for coaches to continue to get him involved in a variety of ways. As the defense comes to discover its identity in the late football months, he might just end up being a major part of it.

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