Bill Belichick couldn't stop raving about one Patriots veteran on Tuesday

New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals
New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

Despite still being early in the offseason, a few players have stood out above the rest during practices, including Jabrill Peppers.

Originally signed before the 2022 season, Peppers wasn't anticipated to play as big of a role on the defense as he did. He joined New England still recovering from an ACL injury that ended his last season with the Giants, so expectations weren't high for him to make an immediate impact with the team.

He was signed to a one-year deal worth nearly the veteran minimum at $2 million, but his effort, consistency, and toughness earned him another contract at the end of the year.

Early in free agency, Peppers signed a two-year, $9 million deal that keeps him in New England through the 2024 season. Although he essentially carved out a role for himself based on his performance last season, he's on the path to earning an even more prominent position with Devin McCourty's retirement.

Now entering his second season with the Patriots, his comfort with the system and his leadership have not gone unnoticed. Bill Belichick said as much before minicamp on Tuesday when asked about the progress Peppers has made over the past year.

"Yeah. Oh my god, yeah. 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."

You know a player must be doing many things right when you catch Belichick smiling while answering and getting him to say "Oh my god" in a positive way.

Peppers spoke to the media after practice was over and reiterated his head coach's assessment of the strides he's made since arriving in New England.

He described how great he was feeling and the relief of returning to playing how he's used to, and emphasized the comfort he feels entering his second year with the team.

"My second year in the system, I'm just more comfortable. 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."

As the offense goes through incredible changes in hopes of dramatically improving its performance from last year, the defense is on the other side, hoping to build upon what they accomplished.

When asked about preparing for the upcoming season, Peppers credited the entire defense with their versatility and the different looks they can give to offenses that work in their favor.

"I think that's just a credit to everyone's versatility. 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."

He also discussed how impactful additions like rookie Marte Mapu will have overall as they collectively hope to elevate how the defense performed throughout last season.

"I've never been a part of something so fast like that. 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."

Through two minicamp practices so far, the defense is on pace to remain the more impressive side of the Patriots. They continue to dominate and alleviate some of the stress regarding the offense as they continue through the transition process of a new offensive coordinator.

It will be interesting to see if they can maintain that all season long, which has been an issue in recent years. It will also be interesting to see how the secondary responsibilities will be delegated now that McCourty is gone.

Based on Belichick's response about Peppers, don't be surprised if he takes over that leadership role in the longtime Patriots' absence.