“Coach Peeler is like a second father to me when my Dad (Terrance Metcalf) isn’t around," Ole Miss sophomore WR D.K. Metcalf said bluntly and without hesitation. “I can talk to him about anything — football, life, whatever. He’s a good man and he tells us he loves us every day. And you know it’s real. He’s such a technician, too. He knows his stuff."
With that type of adulation between coach and player, it's little wonder Metcalf and teammate, and close friend, A.J. Brown, are elated to have Peeler as their position coach.
“People don't know how close D.K. and I came to going to Cal because of Coach Peeler,” Brown said. “We love the guy. He's genuine. When I learned he was coming here as our coach, I was so happy. All of the younger receivers he recruited were. I mean, besides being a great person, he’s a great coach. He's helped a half dozen receivers get to the NFL, which says a lot about his expertise. The main thing is that he’s consistent and never changes as a person."
So how close were the dynamic duo — the Batman and Robin of Rebel split ends — to actually signing with California, many states and miles from their home state?
“Very close,” Metcalf replied, “and it was all because of him (Peeler).”
Brown had a good freshman season, all things considered. Struggling some with two minor tears in his right knee which were kept secret and which slowed him some, he still managed 29 catches for 412 yards and two touchdowns.
“I got those things cleaned up in the offseason and now I am 100 percent,” he noted. “I feel like my old self again. I used last year to learn as much as I could from Quincy (Adeboyejo) and String (Damore'ea Stringfellow) and others. I still have work to do, but I'm getting there. I give myself a 'C' grade for last year, but I’m harder on myself than anyone else is. It's an 'A' or nothing for me. That's just the way I look at it. That motivates me. I want to be the best.
“I'm OK with where I am right now, but I'm one of those guys who isn’t satisfied until I’ve reached my long term goals, and I’m not nearly there yet. I'm working on my routes, my hands and little things. It's hard to get open in this league; you have to grind every play, so that's what I do. I want to be the best. To do that, you have to work.”
Brown loves the talent in the wide receiver room.
“People talk about our potential, but I was always told potential doesn't mean much,” he said. “What I will say is we have a lot of ability in that room. We can all make plays, run routes, make things happen. What we have to continue to do to take off this year is to keep doing the little things every day to get better. That’s one thing Coach Peeler demands and is very good at. I think our group is going to take it to another level this year.
“We've put in a lot of extra work when nobody’s watching to get our timing down. It’s shown up in practice this spring.”
Part of that is working closely behind closed doors with QB Shea Patterson.
“Shea’s doing well,” Brown said. “He seems more comfortable in the pocket and he's delivering the ball on time as he learns a new offense. He works hard, studies hard and drives us to be better. He's a good leader.”
Brown said even though the Rebel offense should be explosive and has shown some of that in spring, he and the offense have been challenged by a revived Rebel defense this spring and that has helped him and all the receivers.
“Their effort under Coach (Wesley) McGriff has been relentless,” Brown added. “They all swarm the ball. I love the competition they’re giving us this spring.”
Brown is a fan of Metcalf — a brother, really.
“That's my guy there,” he said. “It hurt me when he got hurt last year. I’m glad to see him back running around. The guy never gets tired, and he's a beast. He’s developed his game a lot. We feed off each other and push each other.”
Metcalf only played in two games last year before breaking his foot on a TD catch.
He had two catches and both were for scores as he quickly became, due to his length and strength, the ‘Red Zone’ guy.
“It was disappointing when I got hurt, but God has His reasons why He does things and I never got down about it,” Metcalf said. “I just went to work to get well and did what I could to support my teammates who were out there playing.I took it as an opportunity to get better in the film room and in the weight room and I learned how to make the most of mental reps.
“I just didn't look at the negative aspect of the injury. I looked at it as an opportunity for growth as a person and player.”
Metcalf had the benefit of growing up with a Dad who played in the NFL — former Rebel Terrance Metcalf.
“He's been a great role model for me.” Metcalf explained. “He made it to the top and I know if I do the things he did, only better, I’ll make it to the top too. Being around NFL players, I learned how hard they work. Those guys would always tell me how important it was to do extra things when nobody was looking — an extra rep in the weight room, an extra route to run, catch more balls after practice — and I took all that to heart. I try to bring that mentality to my game."
Metcalf is excited about what is happening in spring training and to be back in the mix and healthy.
“There’s a lot of energy out there on both sides of the ball this spring,” he said. “It’s going well. The offense is making explosive plays, but the defense is challenging us every step of the way and it's making all of us better and better. I have a daily battle going with (CB) Myles (Hartsfield), and we’re really getting after each other. We’re both getting better because of that competition. J. (Jaylon) Jones and I are going at it, too. I love the way Coach McGriff and Coach (Jason) Jones are coaching that secondary. They’re getting better every day. They don't stop. They always run to the ball.”
Metcalf said he’s working on his route-running.
“Everyone knows I can run the fade route, but I’ve been working hard on the curls, slants, comebacks, posts, whatever,” he noted. “I’m working to get my center of gravity lower so I can come in and out of breaks faster and with more balance. We’re all working hard to hone our craft."
There is mutual admiration between Metcalf and Brown
“He's gotten so much better,” Metcalf said. “He's faster now that he has his knee healthy. I watch film and think to myself, 'That can't be A.J.,’ but it is. I think we’re going to be very good next year and just keep getting better and better.”
One thing is certain: the wide receiver room is a happy place, as it should be with guys like Metcalf and Brown in the mix.
And it helps a lot that they have been reunited with Peeler.
Good times ahead for that unit.