As the Patriots continue to navigate life after Tom Brady and establishing a new identity while overcoming growing pains, new leaders are needed to maintain a healthy camaraderie and become the go-to guys in the locker room.
Because several pivotal members of the team's dynastic run have retired in recent years, including Patrick Chung, Julian Edelman, and Devin McCourty, there is a need for new pillars of the team to step up and become the new voices of the team moving forward; it has become even more critical as longtime spokesman Matthew Slater is nearing his retirement as well, which will inevitably create a massive shift in the locker room when the time comes.
Since the long list of signings of the 2021 free agency spending spree occurred, a few of those players have become stabilizers behind the scenes. Matthew Judon, who has become a leader of the team and a mentor to younger defensive players, has risen over the last few years and continues to improve his importance to the team morale as he remains a part of team activities despite recovering from biceps surgery.
Others have stepped up in McCourty's absence, like Adrian Phillips, and have become a strong presence for the defense before, during, and after games.
But then there is a new name that has entered the mix this season, a guy that has apparently surprised some as a leader for the team: safety Jabrill Peppers.
Besides being known as a vocal player during his seven-year career, Peppers hadn't established himself in that way since signing with the Patriots last year. With so many changes taking place with the roster and a dire need for guys to become leaders for the team, he has quickly become one of the voices of the defense, something teammate Deatrich Wise believes was always within him, and we're just now finally seeing it.
"When he first got here, you could tell he was wanting to be vocal, wanting to learn the ins and outs of the Patriot. The longer he’s been here, the more vocal he has been."
Despite the random dislike or lack of understanding of why Peppers would even be considered for any sort of leadership position on the team (a bad take by Adam Jones of WEEI's "Jones and Mego"), it's clear his decision to step up at the time that he did and what he's contributed behind the scenes since then has made quite the impression among his teammates.
Besides Wise speaking highly of what Peppers has done so far, David Andrews also spoke highly of the safety earlier this week, crediting him for bringing a needed element to the team that they were lacking before his arrival.
"People respect, as a player, they respect when you go out there and do what you’re supposed to do. Play hard. And you’re accountable. You earn people’s trust by your actions on the field.
I think Pep does a great job. He’s a loud guy, he’s natural and he is playing really well right now. He brings an element to our football team. And he’s a veteran guy, he’s been around. He’s done it."
What makes his newfound position within the team even more unique is how quickly he has become a constant contributor each and every week. Although we're just seven games into the 2023 season, Peppers is already on pace to have the best season of his career, and he continues to be an integral playmaker, especially in games where that's exactly what the team needs.
Because he backs up what he says on the field, the respect Peppers has earned from his teammates makes it easy for them to buy into what he's saying, leading to his quick assimilation to a primary leadership position.
Despite the criticism from people like Jones (of "Jones and Mego") for not being a captain before becoming a leader of the team, Andrews believes that is not a relevant point when it comes to Peppers.
"There’s a lot of leaders on this football team that can do things and say things and can lead in different ways than just captains. It’s always been that way. Like I said, it’s funny to me just seeing how this is going. But I think Pep does a great job. He’s a great teammate, someone I really respect."
Wise co-signed what Andrews had to say, reiterating that anyone can be a leader on the team with the right attitude and respect from his teammates, and Peppers has earned the new title.
"Leadership can come from anywhere. You don’t have to be a captain to be a leader. There’s a lot of emerging leaders on this team, upcoming guys, guys with voices. A lot of guys on the team have great things to say."
Besides the statements made by his teammates this week, it's clear the team in its entirety has welcomed Peppers in his new role. That was made even more apparent when the Patriots released their locker room celebration video after their big win over the Bills last week.
Peppers spoke to the team before Slater did his usual speech, which says a lot about how his teammates view and value him. And we already know that Bill Belichick is a big fan, as well.