EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Three Giants coaches and two players spoke to the media today on Zoom calls, and it speaks to Jabrill Peppers versatility and value to the team that three of them were asked about him.
Peppers, the Giants' strong safety and punt returner, didn't practice for the second straight day because of the ankle injury he suffered early in the game last Sunday against San Francisco. His absence places his availability in doubt for the Giants' road game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday – Peppers' 25th birthday.
Without him, the Giants' safeties will be the same tandem that played most of the game against the 49ers – Logan Ryan and Julian Love. Both are converted cornerbacks, which defensive coordinator Patrick Graham suggested could work to the Giants' advantage.
But the safeties and the entire defense will be challenged by a Rams offense that is ranked third in the NFL in total yards (449.7 a game), tied for third in rushing (170.3) and seventh in passing yards (279.3).
"The good thing about those guys is they both can tackle," Graham said of Ryan and Love. "There's a willingness to be involved in the run game. They can still be interchangeable to a certain degree. The great benefit of it is the man-to-man coverage skills. Now you're working with something right there. You're dealing with the Rams, where these guys are all over the place. Their shift motioning, here goes the missile motion, and stuff like that. Now you have guys, (and you say), 'oh, he can play this coverage, he can play that coverage.' You feel a little bit more comfortable if you're going with all the man stuff. It gives you some more flexibility with stuff like that. Not saying we couldn't have done that with Pep or other guys. You're talking about true cornerback skills, that's a positive right there."
Peppers' absence will be felt not just in the back of the defense but on the entire unit.
"Honestly, he's the energy guy," defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence said. "He brings a lot of energy to the group, positivity, motor, things like that. Now you have to fill that void. Obviously, he's an amazing player and we'd obviously love to have him play. But now it's someone else's time to take on that role and have that responsibility just to be that guy. That's why you have second team or you have backup guys that can fill that role."
Peppers is also a mainstay on special teams. Indeed, he and fellow safety Nate Ebner are the Giants' special teams captains. Peppers was injured attempting to block Robbie Gould's 52-yard field goal last week.
"I don't see anything unusual that happened," special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said. "Just kind of a freak deal. … I didn't see anything crazy with Jabrill's injury. It was kind of one of those deals, but he'll be back. He's a tough guy, he'll be back."
Peppers has returned four punts for 50 yards, a 12.5-yard average that places him fourth in the league in this young season. Now the Giants will look to other players to fill that duty.
"We have a few guys back there that have been practicing," McGaughey said. "We have options there. You guys (reporters) have been around this program for the last three or four years, you know we're always going to have a guy back there that's capable of doing it and be ready to go."
And who would that be?
"I can't give you all my secrets," McGaughey said. "We have a couple other options. C.J. (Board) is back there, Darius Slayton is back there. We have a bunch of other options. Guys that have been out there who have been catching punts every day since training camp. We have full confidence in those guys and whoever we put in the game; they will do a good job."
When asked about replacing Peppers, both Graham and McGaughey mentioned two players and the latter added the potential of needing more.
"Any time you have a player of Jabrill's caliber that you have to replace, obviously it's going to take a few guys to replace him, because he did a bunch of different jobs," McGaughey said. "He meant a lot to our football team and he means a lot to our football team. That's why he has a 'C' on his chest. It's hard to replace that guy, but you just do the best you can, and the guys are going to step up. These young guys are going to step up and fill some of those roles and we're going to keep plugging. We'll see what happens. Those young guys will step up and they will do a good job."
The Giants certainly need them to.
*The injury list remained unchanged from yesterday. In addition to Peppers' absence, two more DBs were limited: Love (knee and ankle) and Adrian Colbert (quad).
View photos of Thursday's practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.