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Julian Love steps in for 'second brother' Peppers

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The fortunes of Julian Love and Jabrill Peppers have had been closely intertwined since they joined the Giants' secondary together in 2019.

They are the team's only defensive backs who have been here each of the last three seasons.

When Peppers suffered a season-ending back injury in Chicago that year, Love took over at strong safety and started the final five games in his absence. Peppers has been a friend and mentor to Love. Last year, the duo played 15 games together, including six in which they both started.

Last week against the Carolina Panthers, Peppers suffered a ruptured ACL and high ankle sprain in his right leg in the third quarter, not only forcing him from the game, but ending his season. Love assumed his position and will likely retain many of those responsibilities when the Giants face the Kansas City Chiefs Monday night in Arrowhead Stadium.

Love welcomes the opportunity, but not that it came at Peppers' expense.

"It was incredibly tough," Love said this week. "We've been together for a few years now. He's like a second brother to me. To have somebody in your room for consecutive years, to be in the locker room with him, I just want him to succeed. It really stinks to have him be down. I talked to him, and we all have his back for sure. He's still around helping us out, so that's good, and that shows what kind of guy he is."

Love has played only 36% of the defensive snaps this season, so he looks forward to his increased participation.

"I'm excited to be on the field more and just to contribute," Love said. "Hopefully, I'll do good things for this team. I never try to be outside myself, I just really try to do what I can to help us succeed on defense, so that's what I am going to do. It's the same as always."

View photos from Thursday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 8 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Love has handled a myriad of responsibilities in the secondary, so many in fact that coach Joe Judge believes he is the unit's most versatile player.

"I think it's fair to say that because of all the hats Julian wears," Judge said. "He transitions from deep field safety, to box safety, to the star position, which is our nickel, to the perimeter corner. This guy plays on special teams as an interior penetrator. As a safety, he plays the signal caller positions. He does a really good job of preparing for a lot of different things, and that's a lot easier said than done."

Peppers joined the Giants on March 13, 2019, in the trade that sent Odell Beckham, Jr. to the Cleveland Browns. Six weeks later, Love arrived as a fourth-round draft choice from Notre Dame.

As a rookie, Love played just three defensive snaps in the first nine games, in part because Peppers was entrenched at safety. After Peppers suffered a transverse process fracture in his back on his only kickoff return of the season, he was replaced by Love, who promptly picked up his first career interception. His second and most recent pick was also in Chicago, last season.

This year, Love's playing time has fluctuated. He played only six defensive snaps in Week 2 at Washington, but 54 three weeks later in Dallas, a game Peppers missed with a hamstring injury.

"It can be tough," Love said. "I just try to stay level-headed and be as productive as I can for our defense. If I'm not playing as much on defense for a certain game, I'm making sure I'm seeing what I can from the sideline to help the guys out and be there and stay ready, because in previous years, my most playing time has come in some unexpected moments. I try to make the most of those moments, so I always stay ready, even if I'm not playing that much."

One constant Love can count on is Pepper's support.

"Through all the kind of ups and downs in the past few years, he's always been there to encourage me, give me some affirmations, and just tell me to keep going," Love said. "He's always kind of been in that role for me, thankfully. He's a great guy. I can't say anything bad about Jabrill."

Judge has praised Peppers this week and said the team will miss his fiery spirit. Love said his absence is not yet acutely felt in the defensive backs meeting room.

"Thankfully, Jabrill is in there still," Love said. "When he's not obviously getting treatment or handling whatever he needs to handle, he's in there with us being himself. We need that. I'm the only DB who has been around him (since their arrival). We're the only two. Sam Beal was here, but he opted out last year, so it's really us two. I know him very well, so I feel I know what he would say in certain situations. I think we all just kind of try to embody the 'Jabrill Peppers way,' so to speak."

One difference between them is that Love is possibly the most easygoing and affable player on the team – off the field.

"That's always been a characteristic of mine," he said. "I try not to take what's on the field off the field, and vice versa. I have fun obviously, but I think it's important to think of it as a workplace. When I'm between the lines, I really am locked in. I'm not smiling all the time, like I am off the field. My parents instilled that in me from a young age. It's being a good person off the field, but that doesn't always need to carry onto the field. I can be a dog, a game-wrecker, and a playmaker. That's always been my case."

He has taken on some characteristics of the more emotional Peppers, who often seems to be in playtime mode, even when he's out of uniform.

"We're very different personalities, but we do connect on a lot of things, surprisingly," Love said. "I would say he has rubbed off on me and vice versa."

How, exactly?

"He's always moving in meetings," Love said. "He's trying to keep his body warm. I feel like when I see him now, I'm like, 'Yeah, I need to stretch now, too.' When I'm in meetings, I'm standing, kind of stretching, and moving around. I don't do it nearly as much as him. He's always doing some fun activity off to the side.

"Something we always talk about with him being from New Jersey and me being from Chicago is building that callous, especially for cold weather. We used to challenge each other to see who could wear the least amount of stuff for cold practices and games, because you have to build a callus to make yourself tougher for the elements."

That trait could prove to be valuable as Love prepares to play a larger role on defense in the season's final 10 games.

View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs ahead of their Week 8 matchup on Monday Night Football.

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