Thursday, March 28, 2013
With a quick flip, Shepard ups his ante
By Gary Laney
BATON ROUGE, La. -- In four years playing for LSU, fans got to see Russell Shepard do a lot.
Coming out of high school in 2009 as one of the country's top dual-threat quarterbacks, he lined up in the backfield in college and ran with the ball as a running back. He'd line up outside and in the slot and catch passes (or, mostly not get thrown to) as a wide receiver. He'd return kicks.
Russell Shepard said that while he has never had to backpedal in his career, he did a pretty OK job of it this week at LSU's pro day.
What we didn't see him do is what NFL scouts had him doing Wednesday at LSU's pro day. Shepard backpedaled, turned to catch the ball, changed directions and reacted, all drills he was doing at -- of all things -- defensive backs.
Russell Shepard, a cornerback?
"I had six teams come up and tell me they wanted to see me do DB work," he said. "I never knew I was going to do it. But I did decent today."
That made pro day an extension of Shepard's entire career, at least his college career. Few have ever questioned Shepard's athleticism -- he put that on display during physical testing, running a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, and jumping 38.5 inches in the vertical leap -- but the question has always been how to utilize it.
Shepard has played every offensive skill position at LSU -- quarterback, running back and receiver -- but never was asked to flip to the other side of the ball until Wednesday.
"I've never backpedaled," Shepard said. "For my first time, I felt I did pretty decent. A lot of the teams were impressed. I could be a DB at the next level."
The thought had hardly crossed his mind before pro day. He was a high school quarterback who would alternate in college between being primarily a running back and primarily a wide receiver, all the time getting the occasional look as a wildcat quarterback.
Nothing seemed to stick and he remained on the margins of the LSU offense for his entire career. As he struggled to find a niche, the thought of playing defensive back would come up in idle conversation but nothing more, he said. Instead, he'd stay in the margins of the Tigers' offense.
Yet he was always good for one or two flashes of his athleticism a year, like the 78-yard touchdown run against Towson in his senior season. On that play, he was lined up as a running back in the shotgun.
That kind of explosiveness was confirmed Wednesday. The 4.5 40-yard dash showed up as a 4.39 (hand-timed) before the official time was posted. And he impressed with his vertical leap. None of that was shocking.
"They knew I was athletic," Shepard said. "They know I can run. They know I can jump. I just wanted to take it on the field and look smooth and look like an athlete.
"I felt I looked pretty smooth catching the ball and I felt at defensive back I looked pretty smooth."
Shepard said working out at defensive back didn't scare him. In fact, it added motivation.
"That brings value to me," he said. "It's great. For them to see me do it and for them to see that I have the potential to play the position and to come out here and look polished as a receiver and catch the ball well, it just adds value."
That value must be forecasted completely by scouts. Lacking much actual college production to gauge potential pro success, NFL teams will have to be creative in finding a way to utilize his athleticism. Shepard is ready to try whatever plan they come up with for him.
"I have no idea where I'm going to go," Shepard said. "It's out of my hands. But hopefully, I can make a 53-man roster when it comes time to go to camp."