The first question lobbed at Brady Hoke after he finished his opening statement at Big Ten media days was about a player who had yet to play a down at Michigan.
Given a tumultuous offseason that saw the hiring of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, the arrest of offensive lineman Graham Glasgow and a potential quarterback controversy, the question might have surprised Hoke if he hadn’t been fielding questions about top recruit Jabrill Peppers since signing day.
Hoke did his best to put the brakes on the hype while confirming that Peppers is projected to get reps at nickelback when fall practice begins.
“I think we’ve got to be careful about anointing any true freshmen starting their college career,” he said.
Hoke is doing his best to dial down expectations, but fans and media won’t be satisfied until the talented Peppers takes the field. The challenge for Hoke is to balance the needs of the team and Peppers’ desire to play.
“Are we excited about what we’ll be able to see in the next couple weeks? No doubt about it,” said Hoke. “But I don’t think it's fair...to say he’s going to do this or be that. I don’t think that’s fair.”
Michigan is projected to be solid on defense, but questions abound on offense.
Does Hoke risk letting Peppers learn (and get beat) on the job when his team might have trouble scoring points implementing a new offense?
There are opportunities for him to play on special teams or offense while getting up to speed on defense. Hoke himself floated the possibility of Peppers playing offense earlier this spring. Looking at the need at receiver, it’s not hard to imagine him getting reps, even if it’s only as a distraction for opposing defenses.
Hoke may be trying to downplay Peppers’ ability, but fans and media aren’t the only ones eagerly waiting to see him play. Quarterback Devin Gardner told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press that Peppers is already making an impact on the team:
I don’t know how he is about learning the defense and knowing where he has to be and things like that. But as far as being a competitor and being a great athlete, he’s up there with the best I’ve ever seen. He’s one of the ultimate competitors I’ve ever seen. He brings a fire and an intensity to our team that we really need.
Peppers has never shied away from the spotlight—but everyone, including Devin Gardner, will have to wait until Brady Hoke determines when and where he’s ready to play.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.