Jabrill Peppers is only entering his fourth season in the NFL, but he is already well-versed in one of the few constants in the league: change.
The 24-year-old is on his second team, third head coach and third different defensive scheme. He is a strong safety by title but could be used in various roles in new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s defense. He is also preparing to be featured much more on special teams this season than he was last year — he is now a co-captain of the unit — while coach Joe Judge isn’t even ruling out using his talents on offense.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to win,” Peppers said Friday.
As if all that wasn’t enough of a change, when the Giants take the field Monday night at MetLife Stadium for a difficult challenge against the Steelers, he will be the only starter in the secondary who was also a starter in Week 1 last year. The three other defensive backs (Antoine Bethea, Janoris Jenkins and Antonio Hamilton) who started alongside him — plus a fourth (Grant Haley) and fifth (DeAndre Baker) who played the next-most snaps in the secondary in the 2019 season-opener against the Cowboys — are not even in the organization any more.
Oh, and the safety he spent most of the offseason planning to play next to this season, rookie Xavier McKinney, went down with a broken foot late in training camp.
Not that Peppers seems fazed by any of it.
“In this business there are guys always in and out the door,” he said. “It’s kind of easy to gel together because we all know we’re all here for one common goal and that’s to win. Football is football, things don’t change. Just the terminologies and things like that do. It’s not as challenging but it does take a little while to build that cohesion. I think we’re doing a great job.”
That will be put to the test immediately on Monday with Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ receiving weapons coming to town. Peppers could have former cornerback Julian Love and newly signed Logan Ryan on the field with him at safety while veteran James Bradberry makes his Giants debut leading a young group of cornerbacks.
“We know we have a tall task at hand, but we’re ready for it,” Peppers said.
The New Jersey native is also ready for an increased role elsewhere, both on special teams and in leadership. He said special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey told him during their virtual spring sessions that he would be featured in punt returns a lot more, like he was in his two years with the Browns before returning just four last year.
“For me, I get an exhilarating feeling,” he said. “You basically have the fate of the team in your hands.”
Judge said he already has seen that passion and willingness to do whatever he is asked from Peppers, which is “why he got such a large number of votes” when players voted on captains. It’s not a distinction Peppers takes lightly.
“I believe that being named captain is one of the highest honors in football,” he said. “Especially voted by your peers, it’s a tremendous honor, I take great pride in that. It was actually a goal of mine my rookie year to become a captain. I know what it means to wear that ‘C’ on your chest, especially here in New York. I’m going to do my due diligence to make sure I abide by that.
“I’m ready, I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m ready to do what I can to help this team win ball games.”