Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ex-Jayhawk Shepherd grateful for pro chance

Former Kansas cornerback JaCorey Shepherd sprints to the finish of a timed 40 yard dash during Pro Day on Wednesday, March 25, 2015.

Former Kansas cornerback JaCorey Shepherd sprints to the finish of a timed 40 yard dash during Pro Day on Wednesday, March 25, 2015.


All JaCorey Shepherd wanted was a chance.

When the defensive back from Kansas University didn’t hear his name called until the sixth round of the NFL Draft last weekend, he made up his mind right then. Yes, Shepherd wanted to get picked before Philadelphia selected him 191st overall. But, no, he wouldn’t consider this a setback.

“For me to get the opportunity to come in and be able to compete right away, that’s all I need,” the 2014 All-Big 12 first-teamer said on draft day. “That’s all I want to know.”

Shepherd grew up playing football in Mesquite, Texas, just outside of Dallas. But he said the nearby Cowboys, one of the Eagles’ NFC East rivals, never earned his affection. The receiver-turned-cornerback began working toward his dream of becoming a pro in middle school. Along the way, he decided not to have a favorite NFL team because he didn’t want to go into the league with any sort of bias.

Sure, Shepherd had favorite players as he watched through the years, and others he admired. Former Philadelphia stars Mike Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy captured his attention at one point or another.

Now the 5-foot-11, 199-pound defensive back finds his interest in the Eagles’ personnel piqued, particularly in the secondary, where he wants to break through as a contributor.

A left hamstring tear, resulting in slow 40-yard-dash times (4.65 and 4.68 seconds) at KU’s pro day, caused Shepherd to slip in the draft, but he received assurances from Philadelphia coaches that they weren’t worried about the injury.

“They told me to get myself ready,” Shepherd said, “and come in ready to compete.”

His NFL journey began this week at the Eagles’ rookie mini-camp, where the battle for playing time officially began. Philadelphia entered the draft needing depth in the secondary. The organization addressed it by taking three corners: second-round pick Eric Rowe (Utah), Shepherd and sixth-rounder Randall Evans (Kansas State).

Though Rowe played safety and corner in college, the Philadelphia Inqurer’s Zach Berman reported the Eagles are using the 6-1 Utah product exclusively at corner. Shepherd also played cornerback at minicamp, but he told he expects to get reps in the slot and at safety as well.

None of the three draftees project as starters. Philadelphia signed veteran corners Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond and E.J. Biggers in free agency. Plus, the Eagles have corners Nolan Carroll and Brandon Boykin back from 2014’s 10-6 team.

According to the Eagles’ website, defensive-backs coach Cory Undlin demands his corners play assertively at the line of scrimmage, so receivers don’t get a running start. Shepherd told the website he and his fellow rookies know they’re not going to win every one-on-one matchup as they try to acclimate themselves to the professional ranks.

“That’s the nature of the position,” Shephard said. “You can’t let that bother you. You need to get right back out there and do your job.”

The confident young corner out of KU told he prefers that approach as a defender, and the man coverage he ran as a Jayhawk taught him how to make that style work for him.

“You can’t run if you can’t move, so if I get my hands on you, you can’t go nowhere,” Shepherd said. “Or if I get my hands on you, that’s going to disrupt his speed, so that 4.2 goes to a 4.4 or 4.3. I don’t care what he is, what he runs. I’m getting up there, and I’m challenging him.”

As a sixth-round pick on a team with options in the secondary, Shepherd knows he’ll have to fight to earn a roster spot and playing time.

Not that he’s worried about it. All he asked for was a chance.

“I don’t like nothing that’s easy,” Shepherd told “I never had nothing handed to me, always had to earn it and prove myself. So I’m going to a situation where I’ve got competition here as well. I think that benefits me, because you actually get the best out of me when I do have competition.”


Joe Ross 5 years, 6 months ago

It may be a small thing, but I really do not care for the terms "ex-Jayhawk", "former Jayhawk", etc. Once your in the family, you're a Jayhawk for life. Great article otherwise.

Dale Rogers 5 years, 6 months ago

I agree. This has long been on my list of irritants. If we really mean "Once a Jayhawk, always a Jayhawk,: then let's refer to them as Jayhawks. Surely there is some less irritating way to indicate they no longer are active.

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 6 months ago

Ex should be used for players who have left KU for another program.

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 6 months ago

Ex-Jayhawks Keeston Terry and Andrew Turzilli also signed free agent contracts which brings the total of Turner Gill recruits who have garnered the interest of the NFL to 13. The argument for firing Gill is compelling but with the convenience of hindsight perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea. Also with the convenience of hindsight replacing him with Charlie Weis was an even bigger mistake. Four plus years of Gill could not have produced results any worse than what we have seen. At the very least, David Beaty would likely not be faced with the dire situation that sits in front of him today. In fairness to Weis we should wait and see how his recruits perform but my guess is they won’t fare as well as his predecessor.

Micky Baker 5 years, 6 months ago

Actually, if this many players are getting attention from scouts and coaches in the NFL, this validates firing him for the poor performance of the players under his watch.

Joe Ross 5 years, 6 months ago

Agree with Micky. Said another way, it appears Gill was more effective at recruiting than at coaching the players once he got them.

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 6 months ago

Except they were underclassman. Not sure how many of the 13 were even starters under Gill's watch. Probably a moot point at best. Deciding who was the better coach is like deciding if your preference for execution is firing squad or hanging.

Micky Baker 5 years, 6 months ago

Here is one thing I remember about Turner Gill. He didn't start Ben Heeney as a freshman because he said Heeney was too fast and would get out of position which may have actually hurt Heeney's development. Our secondary was torched under Gill, and Chris Harris wasn't an underclassman. James Sims hasn't made it in the NFL yet. Turzilli was the number 2 guy. Weis didn't do anything with them either at the college level, but Gill made no improvements on the field at all and kept saying the same things over and over again.

I think I might have forgotten about Steven Johnson too.

It seemed there was a ton of discipline issues under both Gill and Weis. Weis was never cut out to be a college head coach, and Gill wasn't ready for the big time. He might be one day, though. Not all of the players Gill inherited were underclassmen. There are always underclassmen around the Big 12 and other leagues making big contributions as freshmen.

I think Heeney might have had a much higher stock in the draft if he had that one full season that I believe he was cheated out of by Weis. It's kind of like Golf. You can learn to hit the ball on the driving range, but you can only learn how to play the game on the course. Heeney had one less year to learn how to play but in the NFL he might turn into someone who contributes in a big way kind of like Chris Harris with the Broncos.

Janet Olin 5 years, 6 months ago

Nobody who has ever played a sport at KU is an ex-Jayhawk. You play for Kansas, you're Jayhawk. For Life . Period. And the fans recognize you for life.

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