NFL: New England Patriots Minicamp

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's rare for Bill Belichick to crack a smile let alone rave about a player on his roster, but Jabrill Peppers does seem to be the exception to the rule. Leading into Day 2 of Patriots minicamp, the head coach was asked about the veteran safety, who is entering his second year with New England, and the progress he's made since arriving in Foxborough. It's safe to say that Belichick likes what he sees. 

"Yeah. Oh my god, yeah," Belichick said. "He's a much different player now than he was last year at this time or even in training camp. A full year after the injury, a lot of confidence in the communication, the system, his assignments. He's playing fast, aggressive, helping out his teammates. Last year he was trying to learn things, now he's helping out his teammates, anticipating, making calls or adjustments that maybe help him or possibly help his teammate be in a better position to defend a certain play or type of play. Yeah, he's been great. He's way ahead of where he was last year."

On top of Peppers simply gaining more familiarity with New England's defense after having a season under his belt, the 27-year-old is also further away from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 7 of the 2021 season. 

"It just feels good to be healthy," Peppers said after practice. "To wake up with no pain in the morning, get out of bed and do your thing. I feel explosive again. I feel fast again. I still got a long way away. You know, they say it's a two to three-year injury to fully heal but right now I feel pretty good." 

Peppers signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason and then re-signed with the team on a two-year deal back in March. This comes after he appeared in 17 games for New England last season that included five starts. He finished with 60 tackles, but only played 35% of the defensive snaps, meaning there should be plenty of room for additonal playing time and even better play.  

"My second year in the system, I'm just more comfortable," he continued. "I know the guys now. I know what makes them tick, what their best qualities are and we just all play off of each other."

With Devin McCourty retired, the Patriots could look to Peppers to not only help carry the load at safety but possibly even be a leader in the secondary, especially with several young players coming in. New England's pass defense ranked No. 2 in the NFL last season in DVOA and there's a case they could be even better thanks to the versatility of this safety group that can play multiple positions or "spinning the dial" as Peppers put it. 

"I think that's just a credit to everyone's versatility," he said. "We can all play in the deep part of the field, cover man-to-man whether it's a tight end, running back, or if we got to replace on the blitz from the corners. We're comfortable in the box and knowing how to read the triangle. Then you add in a guy like Marte (Mapu), who you don't know if he's a backer or safety now and we're talking pre-snap. It might look one way to the offense and we can run the same play but just flip two guys and now it looks like a completely different defense."

While they are working in some young players like the third-rounder Mapu, the momentum from what this group had a year ago does seem to have carried over into OTAs and minicamp.

"I've never been a part of something so fast like that," Peppers said of the defense coming together. "We've all been here. It's my second year with the guys, but they've all been here even longer than that. We're just building off last year. We kind of brushed off the cobwebs a little bit just to get guys back in the swing of things, but for the most part we're trying to build."

New England's defense dominated the day during Tuesday's minicamp session, setting themselves up nicely to continue this momentum going into training camp later this summer and Peppers could prove to be a big piece to the unit.