It’s starting to feel a lot like football.
There wasn’t much to learn about the New York Giants as they took to the field for the first practice of their 2021 training camp. Pads have yet to go on, the coaches are still installing their schemes, and everyone’s getting on the same page.
But for Jabrill Peppers, this camp is already somewhat different from his previous camps as a Giant. For one, this is his second camp under defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. Unlike the last two years, he doesn’t need to learn a new system — he already knows the general shape and language of the defense.
“Within the second year of any scheme, you definitely get more familiarized with it and you can play that much faster,” Peppers said. “You understand the guys next to you jobs that much more to play to your leverage and know when you can take chances and when you can’t.”
He added, “Absolutely, last year was a lot more thinking for me trying to understand where he wants me to be, the spots. This year, same scheme. I’m more familiarized with it. We had a great install, great teachers, so you just go out there and play.”
Of course, this isn’t everyone’s second year in the scheme.
New, and not so new, faces
It should be obvious to anyone who watched the Giants in 2020 that they were lead by their defense, and that their defense was lead by their secondary. But despite that success, the team added a pair of new players to upgrade their athletic profile on the back end. First they signed CB Adoree Jackson after he was released by the Tennessee Titans, then the team traded up to draft Aaron Robinson out of UCF in the third round of the 2021 draft.
It’s still early in Giants’ camp, and right now the emphasis is getting the new guys up to speed in Patrick Graham’s defense.
Peppers said, “Well obviously, we have to keep building, but you know we’re all football guys. Just the verbiage is different, so you know it hasn’t been that hard, but we know we still have a long way to go.”
While Robinson is a completely new face for the Giants’ defense, Jackson is a veteran and was familiar to a few of his new teammates.
“Me and Adoree’ go back since high school, so,” Peppers said. “I mean, you know, it’s only the first day,” he added. “You know we still have a long way to go. Great start, but we still have a long way to go.”
Jakson and Peppers do have a history, and this winter wasn’t the first time Peppers tried to recruit Jackson to his team. All the way back in 2013, eight years ago, Peppers was actively recruiting Jackson to join him on the Michigan Wolverines — the two were the top two cornerback recruits in the country that year. Jackson ultimately went to USC, but Peppers got another chance with the Giants. Peppers, Darnay Holmes (who attended a camp in high school at which Jackson was an instructor), and Logan Ryan all publicly lobbied Jackson to sign with the Giants after his surprising cut by the Tennessee Titans.
It’s still very early in Giants’ camp (a fact noted by Peppers several times), but what does Jackson bring to the secondary now that the two are finally united?
“He’s an athletic guy,” Peppers said. “He has great technique. As long as he keeps improving like we all need to during into training camp, good things can happen.”
Winning on special teams
Jabrill Peppers has never been one thing as a football player.
During his time at Michigan it wasn’t unheard of for him to hit 100 snaps in a given game. He was recruited as a cornerback, but also played safety and linebacker. Peppers saw time as an offensive weapon, and was also a dangerous special teams player for the Wolverines.
That last bit obviously perks the ears of the Giants, who place particular emphasis on their special teams. So it shouldn’t surprise that Peppers regularly participates in special teams, nor should it surprise that he was asked about the special teams portion of practices.
“Obviously, we love special teams,” Peppers said. “I love special teams. It’s one of the three phases. Games are won and lost on special teams, so we have to treat it as such. It’s a big emphasis here. The best guys are going to play special teams. We know that, the teams that we’re going to play know that. Just got to keep building off of it.”
A couple years ago the Giants seemingly could not find a reliable return option, at times cycling through players on a weekly basis. This year, it seems they have a glut of options for returners. Not only do they still have Peppers as an option to return kicks, but also the additions of rookie WR Kadarius Toney, CB Adoree Jackson, and WR John Ross.
Peppers noted how the latter’s raw speed jumped out at him, saying, “I did [see him return kicks]. I was back there with him. He was there and then he wasn’t.”
Conditioning for the fourth quarter
Years ago, training camp was a nightmare of grueling two-a-days as coaches forced players into game shape after a long off-season. Now, players are never really out of shape. While teams don’t have nearly as much contact with players as they used to, individual players do much more work on their own to make sure they come into camp ready to perform.
But a lighter schedule and a good strength and conditioning base don’t really make camp that much easier. Camp is still tough, because it has to be, and Peppers readily admits that Giants’ camp is a challenge, but a welcome one.
Peppers said, “It’s just challenging. It’s training camp, you know, we’re training for the season. We’re not just out there going through the motions. You’re going to run. We’re going to compete and we’re going to condition after practice no matter how you feel. Building that mental toughness, so that it gives you that confidence during the season to go out there and play fast, hard-nosed football.”
And Peppers isn’t alone in how he feels with regards to the Giants’ demands on players’ conditioning. The rest of the vets know as well, and the ramp up in intensity isn’t a shock to their systems.
“I think they know when they come here, you’re going to run,” he said. “I think that anyone that stems from that tree knows you’re going to run, be in condition. I think the guys want that. When you’re in condition, you play that much faster, it’s injury-proof. For me personally, it gives me a mental edge. When it comes to the third, fourth quarters, I’m not tired and you see the other guys bending over and you know the first thing that goes when you’re tired is your mind, so building that mental so you can stay in the game and play that full 60 minutes.”
When asked if he feels “more fresh” late in games thanks to the emphasis on conditioning, Peppers was definitive in his answer.
“Absolutely. 100 percent.”