Jabrill Peppers grew up in New Jersey, even once attending a rare game between the Jets and Giants at the Meadowlands.
Most members of his family are fans of one local NFL team or the other, but the Giants’ starting safety doesn’t really care whom the opponent is this week, not with his team mired in a five-game losing streak and stuck with an overall record of 2-7 ahead of Sunday’s game against the 1-7 Jets.
“It’s a sense of urgency every week,” Peppers said after practice Friday. “Growing up, it was a fun game, but now I’m at this level, week in and week out, the goal is the same — get a win, prepare like you’re gonna win and go out there and play your best football.”
Some are viewing this week’s game not as one for local bragging rights, but as a battle to avoid the designation of worst team in New York. Peppers sternly dismissed a question about that topic, saying, “I don’t pay attention to stuff like that.”
When another reporter suggested Peppers wasn’t his normal jovial self, he shot back: “I’m good, baby. Just focused.”
“We’re preparing like hell to beat the Jets — that’s really it,” he added. “We ain’t trying to talk too much, just staying focused on the game.”
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Asked if that was a conscious and collective decision in the locker room this week, Peppers replied, “You could say that.”
Peppers, 24, was a rookie on the Browns team that went 0-16 in 2017 before the Giants acquired him in the trade of Odell Beckham Jr. earlier this year. The former Michigan star added he “hates losing,” especially with his teams sporting an overall record of 9-31-1 in slightly more than 2¹/₂ NFL seasons.
“Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve been on the short end of the stick too much,” he said. “So you definitely gotta have ways to keep yourself sane and grounded, but keep playing your best football.”
“This [five-game losing streak] hurts, but ain’t nobody going to feel sorry for you. You can’t be down on yourself — you got another opportunity week in and week out. You just gotta put it on tape.”
Peppers’ play has been more impactful in recent weeks. He has notched a forced fumble in each of the Giants’ past two games, and he also registered a season-high 12 tackles (seven solo) in Monday night’s loss to the Cowboys.
The East Orange product clearly is one member of the starting secondary not in jeopardy of losing playing time. Rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker, the Giants’ third of three first-round picks (30th overall), has had an uneven initial season. He could eventually be pressed for playing time by Sam Beal, who was activated off injured reserve earlier this week after missing his first 1 ½ seasons with multiple injuries.
“He’s coming along. Guys progress as they progress, and they work as they work,” defensive backs coach Everett Withers said. “I think he didn’t quite understand the sense of urgency and detail and things you have to do. Sometimes in college, you go play corner on one side and that’s all you do. He had a lot of details he had to work on.”
Withers added that the 6-foot-1 Beal — whom the team sacrificed a 2019 third-round pick to take in the 2018 supplemental draft — is “a big, long guy that can run, which is what you need on the outside part of the field.”
Another draft pick, Corey Ballentine (sixth round), also has moved into the regular secondary rotation as the slot corner.
“I think Corey’s a guy that’s fast; he’s got speed,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “The thing I really like about Corey since he has gotten here is you walk around the meeting room and you look at his notepad and this guy is taking meticulous notes. He’s trying to be really locked in.” Something that some young players take a while to figure out is the classroom aspect of playing the game in the NFL. I think it was just time for him to get an opportunity.”
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