The Browns secondary had an overhaul in the offseason, but Jabrill Peppers was somebody they planned to build around.
Peppers, who sat out the first four days of training camp with a groin injury, practiced with the team Monday. He had been practicing in a way, even with the injury, through the first few days, but this was unconventional. He cited mental reps as a strong part of what he tried to do as he battled with his nagging groin injury, which he suffered during the offseason.
"Just have to keep the mind sharp," Peppers said. "The body does know the difference between a physical rep and a mental rep. I just stay as in-tune as I can be mentally. When I get out there, there are still going to be some things that I have got to clean up, but I would not have been as far along as I would if I was not being in-tune these last four practices."
Those mental reps might be more important than ever for Peppers as the second-year safety and former first-round draft pick is making a position change. He'll play a more down-hill position at strong safety than what he played last year in Gregg Williams' defense when he was a free safety. Moving Peppers closer to the ball was a big point of emphasis for the Browns; he's a playmaker when he's in the box, and he struggled at times playing far off the ball on the back end.
He's confident that his position change will yield better production for Cleveland. Strong safety lines up with where he exceled in college, and he's comfortable there. He handled the move to free safety in stride last year, but Damarious Randall's addition this spring allowed Peppers to slide down into his comfort zone.
"I definitely think that it will be a different dynamic," Peppers said. "Very instinctual around the ball. We have a lot of great players on the D-line and in the linebacker room who all complement each other very well. Just being around the ball, it just gives you a chance to make more plays, more opportunities. I am looking forward to it."
The Browns finish their fifth day of practice.
With the change, Peppers became one of the "veterans" in Williams' defense. New to the fold are Randall, along with cornerbacks T.J. Carrie, E.J. Gaines and rookie first-round pick Denzel Ward. Gaines played for Williams in St. Louis and Los Angeles, but Carrie and Ward have never been with him.
As Peppers continues to progress through training camp, he's found himself in a position battle. Derrick Kindred started 10 games last season in Cleveland and piled up 57 tackles along with an interception. He's pushing Peppers for playing time, and that's OK. Competition is something coach Hue Jackson stresses every day in practice. Kindred's been practicing since the first day of training camp. Yes, Peppers was able to take mental reps, but he's young.
"Jabrill is a very talented player, but at the same time, you have to practice football," Jackson said. "The thing about sliding back in, that was the Joe Thomas days, guys that have done it for a long time. We have a lot of young guys that they have to practice and get back to playing football, making football plays and getting your body ready for the grind of football."
That aforementioned grind is what Peppers is part of now that he can practice again. Monday, he was asked what kind of year he expects from himself: "A year that is filled with production, point blank. I am not going to say what I am going to do, just produce."
The first step to production was getting back into practice, and Peppers cleared that hurdle. Now, no more mental reps. It's all physical.