Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Russell Shepard gives the team a lot to think about


Russell Shepard is nothing more than a solid player on the special teams squad. Or, at least, that’s what we were supposed to believe prior to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ second preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Aside from Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy, who have carved their respective names into the top three wide receiver slots for this season, the remaining spots are up for grabs. This past Monday, Shepard made a solid case for himself after just two catches (on two targets).

The former LSU product led the team in receiving yards (44) and caught the only receiving touchdown in the Bucs’ 25-11 victory over the Bengals. That alone should raise some eyebrows, but it’s what he did on those two plays that should get a majority of the attention.

Take a look at this 22-yard pass from Jameis Winston to Shepard.

After watching the above play, the immediate reaction is to focus on what Jameis is doing. He’s effectively looking off the safeties and throwing a strong, accurate ball into a small window. It’s all positive stuff that the former Florida State quarterback can build off of heading into Week 3. But let’s also watch Shepard work.

Look at how he prevents the defender from pushing him off his route with a quick arm swipe. Shepard runs a great seam route, finds a nice pocket in the coverage for Winston to throw to and shows no fear running down the middle of the field with three defenders bearing down on him.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Shepard is nowhere near the body type of wideouts like Evans, Jackson or Seferian-Jenkins. However, the Bucs need more options in the slot, especially a speedy one, if they plan to efficiently run Dirk Koetter’s four verticals offense.

And just in case Koetter wants to give the defense a different look and needs him to flank out to one of the ends, Shepard showed his proficiency there as well.

Much like Winston’s completion, people will probably focus more on what Mike Glennon did to put six points on the board. Glennon read the all-out blitz, made the right pre-snap changes and threw a perfectly placed lob towards the endzone. But let’s also watch Shepard work.

If you’re going to point out how Shepard isn’t doing this against Cincy’s first-team defense, stop. The cornerback guarding him was Dre Kirkpatrick, who is expected to be their starter on the left side on Week 1. With that being said, skip ahead to the 25-second mark.

With the Bengals putting so many men in the box, the corners knew that they needed to lock down their opponents. Similarly, Shepard knew that he needed to beat his man in order to help Glennon.

Shepard did a masterful job presenting a slant before breaking towards the endzone. The move froze Kirkpatrick and gave him enough space to haul in the well-placed pass with a tough over-the-shoulder catch.

Since going undrafted two years ago, Shepard has been a sort of jack of all trades, bouncing between his natural wideout position to getting work in with the special teams squad to entertaining the possibility of switching over to defense. But, during this preseason, the 24-year-old may have found a place in the Bucs’ wide receiving corps.

Even though he can always fall back on his special teams role, the Houston, Texas native is, first and foremost, a wide receiver. These next two preseason contests will be a make-or-break time for Shepard who must already have Koetter’s attention.

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