Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, left, speaks with freshman cornerback Jabrill Peppers (5) at preseason media day. ASSOCIATED PRESS
ANN ARBOR — The big part of the trip is over for the Michigan football team. Preseason camp breaks this afternoon, which means the countdown to the season opener can officially begin.
“I didn't really see the light at the end of the tunnel until I just got out of practice,” said Jarrod Wilson, a junior safety. “It’s been a real tough grind these last three weeks. But I’d like to say the team’s ready for this week one game against Appalachian State.”
The Wolverines open the season at noon next Saturday against the Mountaineers at Michigan Stadium in a rematch of one of the more dubious games in recent UM football history, one that Wilson said he didn’t even watch. Given that point, UM isn’t looking back seven years. Instead, they’re looking ahead seven days to their opener.
Earlier this week, Michigan coach Brady Hoke announced the first of his projected starters for its season opener. On Friday, Hoke made another personnel announcement: Freshman Jabrill Peppers will take over as UM’s punt returner against Appalachian State.
“We’re putting a lot of our best guys on the field,” Hoke said. “That’s a plus. We’ve had some [punt returners] in the last three years that have been decent, and we’ve had some that haven’t maybe fielded the ball as well as we should sometimes. All through special teams, we want to get improvement.”
Peppers was recruited as a cornerback, but in addition to having nearly 1,400 all-purpose yards in his senior year at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic, Peppers fielded both punts and kicks. He will help a unit that averaged 6.3 yards per punt return in 2013, second-to-last in the Big Ten. Iowa led the Big Ten, averaging 14.0 yards per punt return.
Jordan Lewis, a cornerback, said Peppers has a certain comfort level in playing on special teams.
“Knowing Jabrill, he’s a level-headed guy,” the sophomore said. “He wanted to get in that playbook. He wanted to play early. It shows on the field when you see him go out there, making plays with the [first team].”
Peppers’ positive attitude, Lewis said, counts for something in Michigan’s defensive unit.
“He has a lot of enthusiasm when he’s out there, and it makes everybody want to pick up their game,” Lewis said.
Hoke also projected part of his defensive line, putting Willie Henry at the three-technique tackle and Ryan Glasgow at nose tackle, and said Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess would start at cornerback.
“The competition has been very heated,” Hoke said.
While Hoke announced four of his five starters on offensive line against Appalachian State, Hoke has not decided upon a fifth starter at right guard, a spot that’s up for grabs between Kyle Bosch, Joey Burzynski, and Kyle Kalis. Kalis has been practicing in preseason camp at both left and right guard but played minimally in Saturday's scrimmage because of a back injury.
Michigan’s depth chart will be revealed Monday — the first day of game week for the Wolverines.
“Camp showed us that it really is a grind, but that guys actually come together,” Wilson said. “I felt like we’ve built a pretty solid family in this team.”
INJURY UPDATE: Hoke said tight end Jake Butt continues to make progress following surgery in February to repair a torn ACL in his right knee and said the sophomore is on schedule to return later this season. Two weeks ago Hoke projected Butt to return when UM opens its Big Ten schedule Sept. 27 against Minnesota. Safety Delano Hill (broken jaw) has not been cleared for contact and his status for the season opener is unclear.