Russell Shepard, who went undrafted out of LSU, finds himself with a chance to start opposite DeSean Jackson. (USA Today Images)
Russell Shepard planted himself in front of the TV and watched the draft. Not just the first round. Not the first few rounds.
The whole thing.
He watched 254 players get drafted. None were named Russell Shepard.
“I made sure I watched every pick, from the first pick to the last pick,” Shepard said. “That was a thing that made me stronger, that made me a better individual and a better person and more determined.
“Because I knew I could play this game. I knew given the right situation, given the right opportunity, I could be a good asset to a team.”
Ten practices into his NFL career, he’s off to an impressive start.
“The guy’s dominating this camp,” said college teammate Bennie Logan, the Eagles’ rookie defensive lineman. “I gotta admit. He’s making unbelievable catches, he’s really going all-out. You see the fire that’s burning in him.”
With Jeremy Maclin out for the year, Riley Cooper off somewhere getting help and B.J. Cunningham released with an injury waiver, Shepard has found himself working with the Eagles’ starting offense at wide receiver across from two-time Pro Bowl pick DeSean Jackson.
Running with the starters in August and starting in September are two different things, but Shepard has certainly opened up a lot of eyes going into the preseason opener Friday against the Patriots at the Linc.
“I’m just trying to make the team,” Shepard said. “I’m just an individual who’s green to the league, and I feel like I’ve gained the confidence of my teammates and coaching staff, and just trying to show them that I can be a part of this team, whether it’s on special teams or catching balls or blocking.
“Whatever I can do to make this team better. And I feel like coming in with that mind set has allowed me to get more reps than the average undrafted guy.”
Damaris Johnson has tremendous speed and a year of experience, but he may be a little too small to be out there on a full-time basis with Jackson. Arrelious Benn is a former second-round pick and has experience, but he’s battled injuries for a couple years now and has only been through one full practice so far this camp. Jason Avant is a dependable veteran, but at this point in his career is best suited to the slot.
Right now, it’s Shepard’s job to lose.
“He has great speed, he runs great routes, he has a good set of hands,” Michael Vick said. “He knows how to play football instinctively and that’s what you’re always looking for, a guy you don’t have to teach everything.
“I think the coaches are doing the best to put him in situations where he can thrive. He understands what he needs to do to put himself into position to make this football team, and I’m excited for him.”
Shepard arrived at LSU as a highly recruited quarterback, but bounced around different positions in Baton Rouge, first playing running back, then cornerback, then finally receiver.
He rushed for 733 yards, had 565 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns on some loaded Tiger teams.
Versatility is a tremendous asset in the NFL, but on draft day nobody was quite sure what he was, and 29 wide receivers were taken while he watched and waited.
“Playing several different positions kind of hurt me in college because scouts didn’t really know which position I could be,” he said.
“But it helps me now because I’m able to do several different things. Get on kickoff and make a tackle, get in the backfield and block, catch balls. It’s weird how God’s plan works. They say God works in mysterious ways, and maybe it hurt me on draft day, but maybe it’s helping me now.”
Logan, selected by the Eagles in the third round, couldn’t believe it when his friend wasn’t taken.
“He’s got a chip on his shoulder because he feels like he should have been drafted,” Logan said. “But everything happens for a reason, and he’s doing all he can right now to let the coaches know he’s a player, he’s here to work and get better and make this team.
“Russell hasn’t surprised me at all. I knew what kind of person Russell was. The guy works hard, he’s dedicated to the job. He’s a craftsman. Every day he comes to practice and gets better, finds a little thing to get better at.
“He walks around with a football every day, just working on grabbing the ball, throwing the ball, just getting a feel for the ball, and as you can see, the hard work and dedication is paying off for him.”
Shepard, 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, worked in the slot during spring minicamps but has been practicing exclusively outside since Maclin got hurt.
He’ll have to perform in the games to realistically have a chance to make the team, but he’s off to a terrific start.
One thing is certain: Shepard certainly looks and acts like he belongs.
“You prepare, you stay humble, you work and you come out and give it your all and play full speed all the time,” he said. “You’ve got to trust your preparation and just continue to get better and feel like you belong here.
“It’s an opportunity to go out and try to make this team. To show that I’m a part of this team, that I can be a part of this team, that I can help benefit this team.
“Everybody here is here for a reason. We all have ability and God-given talent to be great football players, it’s just the ones who take advantage of the opportunity are going to be the ones who will be successful.”