CLEVELAND — Jabrill Peppers has seen the jokes on social media about him lining up so deep at free safety last season that he might as well have been in the stands at FirstEnergy Stadium, Lake Erie or any number of Cleveland suburbs.
Peppers even laughed it off last month on Twitter and rhetorically asked how long the wisecracks would keep coming.
“The fans gave me a little bit of heck about it, but those wouldn’t be jokes if I was making the plays I was supposed to make,” Peppers said Wednesday after the second practice of organized team activities. “So that’s all it comes down to.”
All kidding aside, the Browns believe Peppers is much better equipped to play strong safety than free safety. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams conceded last year he used Peppers primarily at free safety because he didn’t have a better option on the roster.
The franchise is confident it found a more natural fit when new General Manager John Dorsey acquired Damarious Randall in March via a trade with the Green Bay Packers. Randall spent the past three seasons playing cornerback for the Packers, but he’s eager to play free safety like he did at Arizona State University.
“He’s a ballhawk,” Peppers, 22, said. “I went home and watched a couple of his highlights. I didn’t know he had 10 (career interceptions), so that’s one of the things that stood out, especially a safety playing corner. He usually followed their No. 1 receiver as well, so having a guy back there who’s not only a ballhawk but can also play man-to-man against some of the best receivers in this league is definitely something we can use to our benefit.”
In last Wednesday’s OTA session, the first one open to media, Peppers and Randall worked at strong and free safety, respectively, with the first-team defense. Derrick Kindred and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, mostly a cornerback the past two seasons who moonlighted at safety, practiced at strong and free safety, respectively, with the second unit.
In 11-on-11 drills, Peppers broke up a pass quarterback Tyrod Taylor intended for wide receiver Rashard Higgins and later dropped a would-be interception thrown by rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Those are the types of plays Peppers admits he didn’t make enough as a rookie last season, when he had 57 tackles and three passes defensed, including an interception, in 13 games.
“I was just being hesitant and not trusting myself, second guesses, things like that, taking bad angles, just things you’ve got to adjust to, nothing too out of the ordinary,” he said. “[They’re] just things I’ve got to go back and correct, and I will correct.”
A first-round pick (No. 25 overall) in last year’s draft, Peppers expects a leap in progression during his second NFL season, he said, partly because he has mastered the playbook.
“It allows you to play faster,” said Peppers, 5-foot-11 and 213 pounds. “You know what other guys are supposed to do as well. It allows you to help other guys play to your level, disguise certain things and make it look like a different scheme, things like that.
“It definitely helps having a year under my belt going through the offseason process with the guys, the whole offseason process, just relearning certain things, learning new techniques and how to play different schemes. It’s definitely going to be a tremendous help.”