BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Jabrill Peppers has instincts on the football field that can’t be taught or coached.
He’s a natural.
“When he was born, there was probably a football right next to him,” Browns special team’s coordinator Chris Tabor said. “It is just an innate ability for him. He understands and his football intelligence is extremely high.”
A jack-of-all trades during his college career at Michigan, Peppers is showing the same ability to multitask with the Browns, who are more than pleased with the first-round draft pick’s development in training camp. Peppers, who was credited with playing 15 different positions and special teams last season for the Wolverines, has lined up at both safety spots, outside linebacker, kick returner, punt returner and even spent some time working with the quarterbacks for Cleveland.
After Peppers dazzled with several big plays in practice, Browns coach Hue Jackson said there is more than one position for the 21-year-old.
“He is showing you he can play anywhere,” Jackson said.
During Monday’s workout, which was one of the more physical practices so far, Peppers set the tone early with a vicious hit on wide receiver Rannell Hall, who somehow managed to hang onto the ball following the head-snapping contact. Later, Peppers tipped away a few passes as the Browns were practicing late-game scenarios before he intercepted quarterback Brock Osweiler and returned it for a touchdown, celebrating with a forward somersault into the end zone.
Peppers didn’t make it out of the end zone before he was cut off by Jackson, who had a lesson to deliver.
“He can do some things,” Jackson said. “If he gets the ball in his hands, he is probably going to score because he has that kind of skill once the ball touches his hands. I was trying to explain to him in that situation, the game is over. Just get down. Yeah, but he was going to score. He was trying to go score. Game over, let’s protect the lead and that’s what we do. That is a teaching moment for him. He is growing and getting better every day.”
But while praise poured in over him, Peppers felt there were some flaws in his performance.
“There’s a lot of things I could still do better,” he said Tuesday. “Yesterday, I showed flashes of what I can do, but I’ve still got a lot to improve on. It was good to finally get a turnover, to finally just play ball. I just feel like there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Despite questions about Peppers’ character after he tested positive for a diluted urine sample at the scouting combine, the Browns took the All-American with the No. 25 overall pick. Peppers has met every expectation to this point and has embraced the team’s desire to use him on defense and special teams.
With starting safety Ibraheim Campbell out with a concussion suffered in the exhibition opener, Peppers has been taking advantage of getting more time with Cleveland’s first-unit defense.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is demanding that Peppers raise his game and so far he has.
“He has played free, strong (safety), linebacker both strong and weak, punt returner, kick returner and quarterback,” Williams said. “Do you know the definition of what kind of position he is playing? He is a football player. He can play football. He has been a joy to be around, too. He has been really focused in the meetings. He has been really focused in practice.
“He is starting to take advantage of a few snaps with guys who are going to be kept in the league. Every day is an interview now.”
And in Peppers’ case, it’s for more than one job.