MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Texted a pro scout Friday night, while Dalvin Cook got busy running wild, Florida State had Michigan over a barrel and Jabrill Peppers was nowhere to be found.
What should we read into the fact the Wolverines’ best player, its soul and its spine, elected to take a pass on the 2016 Orange Bowl?
What do we take from the notion that he warmed up, gingerly, on a bad right leg, during pregame warmups before electing to bag it for the evening?
Anything? Anything? Bueller?
“Tells me,” the scout replied, “he is coming out.”
Doesn’t it? It’s easy to connect the dots, easier still to surmise. If you plan to make your living with your legs, why chance them on an evening that doesn’t have a bearing on the national championship or the Playoff picture? That’s Leonard Fournette’s line, after all, and he’s sticking to it.
Only here’s the thing: Peppers says nobody told him.
“I have insurance,” Michigan’s linebacker/return man/wildcat quarterback said after the Wolverines were handed a wild 33-32 defeat by the Seminoles at Hard Rock Stadium. “I don’t know if anybody knows about that process.
“After my freshman year and (I) got hurt, I didn’t care about getting hurt (any) more, not only because I had insurance, but I had a football team to win for. I just stopped taking everything for granted.
“I could care less about what people think about why I didn’t play. Not being out there with brothers, that hurts more than the loss. As for my future, I still don’t know what I’m going to do yet.”
Or where he’s going to play. There’s some debate among NFL scouts as to where the 6-foot-1 junior fits best at the next level. Safety? Outside linebacker? Nickel back? Jack of all trades?
But there seems less doubt than ever as to when. 2017 sets up with an OK safety class and a decent linebacker crop hitting the market, but the tea leaves keep pointing Peppers jumping sooner as opposed to later.
“I felt as though if the game was Saturday, I could definitely play in this game.”
— Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers
Questions persist as to whether the triple-threat prospect has already maxed out his value at the college level — if, from a pro-stock standpoint, there’s nowhere to go but down. Underclassmen have until Jan. 16 to declare.
“So I’ll probably take all the way until the deadline,” Peppers said.
The New Jersey native stressed repeatedly that he doesn’t need to jump, and certainly didn’t sound as if his mind was already made up one way or the other. What he did sound was depressed, sitting glumly in front of his locker stall as reporter after reporter crammed into a semi-circle around him.
“It sucks that we couldn’t send the seniors out the right way,” Peppers said of the Wolverines, who suffered three losses — at Iowa, at Ohio State, and against the ‘Noles — by a combined margin of five points. “Sucks that I couldn’t help the team.
“You work too hard, man. I just feel as though the season (cheated us). After all the hard work we put in, these seniors, they deserved better than this. It’s just — (to) not even be able to play, it just sucks.”
More suckage: Friday was the second straight postseason contest the New Jersey native missed, having sat out the Citrus Bowl last January with a hand injury. And Peppers couldn’t be found on the sideline during the see-saw contest Friday night, not even in street clothes.
“Coach (Jim) Harbaugh made me go upstairs to the press box,” the defender explained. “I think he said it would be like a spectacle, or something like that. I don’t know.”
Peppers tweaked the hamstring Thursday while jumping for a ball at practice, Harbaugh told reporters after the contest. And given another day’s rest …
“I felt as though if the game was Saturday, I could definitely play in this game,” Peppers said. “But me hurting my hamstring one day before the game, no matter who you are, it’s going to be tough.”
The decisions looming over the next fortnight won’t be any easier. If they haven’t been made already.