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Russell Shepard - The Beginning Of A Journey; Something To Prove From The Opportunity He Was Given

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In the midst of the drizzle and sprinkle of rain and cloud, Russell Shepard shone.

During the first day of the Panthers 2017 OTAs, Russell Shepard put on a clinic. He outperformed his peers with ease, making catch after catch like clockwork. He captivated his coaches, his peers, and his teammates all alike with his energy, skill, and effort.

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Shepard was one of the most vocal players on the field, hyping up offensive teammates and yapping with members of the defense.

“That’s probably half the reason why I’m here,” Shepard said after his first organized practice with the Panthers. “You can’t fake the funk, you can’t fake the energy. I learned that awhile ago and I try to apply that every time I step on the field.”

Russell Shepard went on the field making plays. With plenty of tough catches and finding ways of getting open, Shepard got plenty of good reviews from everyone present. 

However, one thing stood out. Shepard's talk and attitude was like a blazing fire on the field. He made sure his passion for the game was made known to everyone, and he was not afraid of getting fiery when he needed to be.

Shepard's talk even grabbed the attention of Cam Newton, who everyone knows is arguably the team's biggest cheerleader. 

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Most who follow the Panthers are still getting acquainted with the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, but it’s clear quarterback Cam Newtonicon-article-link.gif is already a big fan of the new No. 19.

Newton, vocal and energetic as always despite being unable to practice, was constantly praising “Shep!” after receptions during the team period.

 

Shepard loved it. He made sure everyone knew what he thought of Cam

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“He’s a talker, I’m a talker. We’re passionate individuals,” Shepard said. “Those kind of people either hate each other or love each other. That’s my quarterback, so I love him. We definitely click.”

Shepard loved the atmosphere. The fun talk, the plays he made, and the attitude everyone brought was just awe-inspiring for the former Buccaneer. Shep felt like he belonged every minute, and he certainly didn't mind.

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“It was so fun, man,” Shepard said. “This is what we do and it brings peace to you, especially being on a new team, a new environment.”

"I’m super excited to be in this offense. The receivers get a lot of freedom and I just have to take advantage of my opportunities, cut it loose and keep making plays.”

 

It was a beautiful beginning for a guy who started off his career barely making rosters. As an undrafted free agent, it's expected that a player's career would start off slow. But when the opportunities presented itself, Shepard shone through.

Entering The NFL With A Bang

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Russell Shepard is a guy with a big-mouth. He's not afraid to let his thoughts out, and doesn't care how the media perceives it. He'll trash-talk, joke, and have fun all around, having not a care in the world what he says.

His entry into the NFL was no exception.

Russell Shepard's came into NFL in a wave of controversy. The Eagles signed Shepard as an undrafted free agent, after every other team passed up on him in the 2013 draft. However, Shepard's comments on being signed would perk up some ears.

When doing an interview, Shepard revealed that he pretty much knew he would end up on the Eagles before the draft was over. Seems innocent enough, until you read into the wording.

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“I actually took myself off the draft board during the draft,” Shepard said on WNXX 104.5, via the LouisianaDaily.com. “Teams started calling me probably in the middle of the sixth round asking me, ‘Is it true that you’ve signed with a team already?’ and I actually got it out of the way before the draft was over, because that was the perfect fit for me."

Controversy erupted, with many questioning how Shepard was able to evade being drafted and sign with the Eagles as a UDFA. They looked into the wording as if Shepard had already officially signed with the Eagles before the draft was over. This would be a clear violation of NFL rules and guidelines, and likely blown up into a huge scandal.

Luckily, that wasn't the case. The Eagles released an official statement refuting that idea, and Berman of philly.com offered a logical explanation for Shepard's talk.

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The Eagles released the following statement on Wednesday: “Russell Shepard has not signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, we did come to terms on a contract with he and his agent after the draft was completed. We anticipate he, like all of the rookie free agents we have agreed to terms with, will take a physical examination upon arriving in Philadelphia prior to next week’s rookie mini-camp and then sign a contract.”

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Here's why: It's entirely conceivably, and all but certain, that Shepard heard from the Eagles late in the draft. This is a common occurrence, when teams scramble to identify players to sign as free agents. All teams do this, and agents try to find the right bonus or right situation for the player. Shepard's versatility clearly makes him an attractive player to the Eagles, and from Shepard's perspective, it sounds like he wanted to come to Philadelphia.

So it would make sense if they had an informal understanding to come to Philadelphia late in the draft. Of course, that understanding would be moot if Shepard was picked elsewhere. No team would decline on picking a player because he had designs of signing elsewhere. The draft trumps the free agent market for rookies. In fact, agents often tell the team to pick the player if they want to sign him that badly. Of course, teams might have been calling Shepard to sign him as an undrafted free agent, and Shepard might have wanted to go to Philadelphia if that was the case.

The bottom line is that no contract was or is signed. They agreed to terms after the draft, but Shepard will need to pass a physical to sign. 

It was very likely that Shepard got calls about people asking him about UDFA opportunities rather than calls about being drafted. Shepard's comments were overblown and misconceived by the media, as the interpretation was not representative of actual events.

Russell Shepard would enter in and compete with the Eagles, but a surprise cut would come up in August of 2013, landing him back on the streets looking for a job.

Working His Way Up

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When Russell Shepard hit the waiver wire, the Buccaneers were ready to grab him.

Seeing something special in the undrafted rookie, the Buccaneers felt that they couldn't let this opportunity slide. In September of 2013, they put pen and paper together and signed Russell Shepard on the team.

Now, the Buccaneers didn't know how to use him at first. He was too raw to start off as even a backup wide-receiver, and it's not like he'd be ready to return to his dual-threat QB position of high school. However, when they gave him some snaps at Special Teams, they saw something in him.

That was all it took for them to see that Shepard's going to be a special guy.

Russell Shepard would begin his career as a special team ace, while working on his skills as a wide-receiver. In his first three seasonsShepard played in 43 of a possible 48 games, leading the team during that span with 30 kick-coverage tackles. Shepard cemented himself as the foundation of the Buccaneer's special teams group, and enjoyed every second of it.

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I was just happy just to contribute to the team. Looking at the roster during training camp, I was kind of the outside guy looking in. So for me to make the opening day roster and, throughout the season, be able to contribute on special teams and to the offense here and there, I really enjoyed it.”

In 2015, Russell Shepard achieved the role as the Buccaneers Special Teams captain. Recognized for his steady improvement, energy, and skill on the team, Russell Shepard would receive that title with plenty of support. Everyone knew Shepard was an integral part of the team, and his drive and passion was awe-inspiring.

Shepard worked hard to achieve that point. Every sweat, tear, and laugh was for something, and getting to the point he did as a UDFA was no small task. However, Shepard knew he wasn't done there, and he was ready to show it.

The Beginning Of Something Special

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It was the summer of 2016. 

As usual, the Buccaneers held their annual training camp; a competition between NFL players to save their jobs. Only 53 men are be able to make the final roster, and everyone made sure they poured every ounce of effort on the field. 

Russell Shepard was back, ready to liven things up. Having a popular reputation around camp, he wasn't afraid of talking and getting everyone pumped up. Throughout the dog-days of the Florida summer, Shepard would be up and energetic, yapping and hyping up a storm.

Shepard is well known as a hype-guy. One of the key reasons he even was a Special Teams captain was the energy and hype he brought around to all players around him. His fun talk and quirks all brought a smile and laugh from everyone surrounding him. His leadership was unmatched, and his passion untouchable.

Even Jameis Winston had to surrender the title of most passionate player to Shepard.

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“He’s probably our best all-around player on this team as far as the passion that he comes with every day to work, as far as the leadership that he gives us and just his heart,” Winston said. “His overall heart is tremendous."

However, this training camp felt a little different for Shepard. Shepard felt he was much more refined and fluid on his routes, and he looked like a real NFL WR on the field. Things were beginning to click together, and the practice/experience he built up produced results.

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"It's coming," said Shepard. "I'm starting to gain some respect and notoriety at the position. A lot of guys know me as a special teams guy in this league, but a lot of guys have seen me getting better, especially with the game last week and having the joint practices this week, and just seeing me throughout camp and in OTAs. I definitely acknowledge that I'm getting better."

Shepard knew something special was brewing inside of him. The hard work and tireless effort he put in to reach this point started to look like it was paying off. 2016 could be the year that Shepard dreamed of.

Russell Shepard began the year like normal; being a special teams monster. 

Racking up the tackles, Shepard did his job. Terrorizing returners, Shepard was a heat-seaking missile; aiming and directing himself at his target. Showing no mercy, Shepard would lay the wood on anyone that dared to stand in his way.

Against the Panthers, Shepard was relentless. He gunned down our returners and helped add to our stat sheet as one of the league's most mediocre return teams in the NFL, and he made Ginn's day into a nightmare.

Ted Ginn's hands are well-known for being made out of slippery butter, and his return skills sloppy at best. It was a trait the Panthers had to accept for their best speed threat. Combine that with Teddy Williams and you can see where this is going.

When Ginn was attempting to return a punt, Teddy Williams came blazing in and slammed right into Ted Ginn. This caused Ginn to trip up and cough up the ball. Now, it probably wouldn't have been much of a problem had Russell Shepard not existed.

Shepard's concentration and focus was on all game. When he saw Ginn cough the ball, he knew he couldn't just sit there and let it slide. As if by instinct, Russell Shepard leaped right towards the ball and fell on top of it.

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Positioning himself in a desirable situation, Shepard made the most out of this opportunity to recover a punt. He displayed blinding speed and ability to go after the ball. Knowing that every play he made would define who he is, Shepard made sure none of his opportunities went to waste.

Shepard would continue on being a ST gunner. Tackling and pinning down returners was his job; his life. He would make pregame speeches and rally up his team, making plays all the while.

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“Shep gives a pregame speech in the locker room before every game. So, we just rallied behind him and went out there and played some good football.”

However, Shepard's opportunities didn't end there. When Vincent Jackson was forced out of the lineup, the chance Shepard dreamed of materialized.

Against the 49ers, Shepard entered the game as a WR2/3 for the first time in his career. An opportunity that Shepard knew only comes once in a lifetime, he made sure he made the most of it.

Not only that, but the 49ers hosted Russell Shepard's old coach - Chip Kelly - who cut him from the Eagle's squad. Not only was this Shepard's best opportunity to show off his football skills, this was his best shot at showing the former Eagles Coach exactly what kind of big mistake he made.

Russell Shepard added to his stat sheet that day, nearly reaching his total yardage of his whole career. He caught five passes on six targets for 77 yards and a touchdown. He looked like a natural on the field; his route-running fluid. Shepard's touchdown would involve leaving the 49er corner on an island and beating him with a beautiful move.

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It was a fantastic showing for the Buccanneer WR. Shepard was able to make the most of his opportunity and made a huge impact. His teammates sat on the sidelines, watching it all play out, with Jameis Winston smiling; overjoyed at how all their hard work paid off.

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"This was another big win for him because their head coach cut him, and that’s personal to him. We did everything in our power to help him.”

Russell Shepard didn't stop there. 

Against the Oakland Raiders, Shepard kept making the most of his opportunities. Shepard gained a touchdown and achieved a modest amount of yardage in the looks he was given. Shepard ran a 7 route and seemed unaffected by a late jam, making a gorgeous catch in the endzone.

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It was plays like this that Shepard knew he had the potential to make. To see them come to fruition on the field was the cherry on top after all the hard work he put forth. Route-running and playing corners started coming naturally for him, even when it really was his first season receiving so many looks.

Shepard would continue on his streak of solid play. Against the Chiefs, he would gain 54 total yards, catching 3 out of 4 targets for huge chunks and gain. When Cecil Shorts went down later in the season, Shepard would just keep on getting more and more opportunities.

Against the Seahawks, he would gain a good 23 yards on 2 catches. Showing off a good deep hitch route up top, Shepard gets himself open fast to grab the ball. 

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One thing the Carolina offense loves to utilize are deep hitch routes. They had a knack of working out well whenever Carolina used it, and Shepard's no stranger to the route. One of his primary routes appear to be deep hitches, and he looks smooth through and through.

When faced up against the Cowboys, Shepard was given a look and turned it into yards. One of the interesting things about this play is how Shepard would come back and adjust for the inconsistent ball Jameis threw. Rather than let it be another dud from Jameis, Shepard turns the play into a positive and gets a huge chunk of yards.

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Shepard was having the year of his life. Having already eclipsed his total yardage for his career prior to 2016, it was a memorable time for the ST captain. 

Against the Saints, Shepard put on a clinic. Shepard exploited the Saints defense through his route running and speed. Whenever he was given the slightest space, Shepard would make the most of it.

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On the above deep hitch, Shepard grabs the ball and pushes himself upfield for even more yards. He completes the task efficiently and well, looking clean and polished. His route running was stellar for a guy who came in as a UDFA some years ago.

Russell Shepard kept up his impressive showing. Taking an inside release, he creates leverage on the Saints DB. Topping it off with a skinny post, Shepard makes a very tough grab with a DB wrapped all around him. Jameis may have looked like a complete idiot, nearly botching up the snap, but Shepard looked like a high quality wide receiver.

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Shepard finished off the day with a total of 61 yards, averaging 20.3 yards per catch. A very productive day, Shepard played well and made the most of it. No longer just a special teams ace, he was a key contributor in the Buccaneers offense, helping out when the opportunity presented itself.

Russell Shepard finished the 2016 season with a total of 2 TDs and 341 yards on 40 catches, averaging 14.8 yards per catch. Eradicating his career total of 91 yards and 1 touchdown past, Shepard showed up, and had one of his best seasons yet.

Shepard's Future With The Panthers

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When Russell Shepard signed with the Panthers, he was excited. Just the culmination of everything's he's been through, and the opportunity the Panthers presented led to Shepard's joy when he signed the dotted line.

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“I’ve been through a lot to get to this point. It’s surreal,” he said. “But I’m a very humble guy. I’m an energetic guy and I love people. I honestly think it’s all going to work out for the best.”

When he says he's an energetic guy, he means it. He's on the field talking up a storm and having fun. A guy very much like Cam Newton in his talk and demeanor, and a peak at the Saints game is no exception to this.

No wonder Cam Newton was in love with him at first sight.

Shepard even shows a knack of turning any bad situation into a sentimental one. When Thomas Davis hit Shepard with a very rough tackle, Shepard didn't mind much. Davis made sure he apologized immediately, and tempers were never raised. 

In fact, Shepard was fine with the whole situation, even turning it into a sentimental memory.

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“Even if a guy hits you like that off-guard, man you’ve got to just smile. You got hit by Thomas Davis,” Shepard said. “He was the first one to come apologize to me after the game. I love Thomas. Mad respect for that guy, what he’s overcome from an injury standpoint.”

Already having a connection with current Panthers special teams coach Thomas McGaughy, Shepard mentioned how he owed his career to him

McGaughy saw the potential in Shepard. McGaughy coached David Tyree - known for his helmet catch from Eli Manning in the Superbowl - who was also a quality ST ace for the Giants. When he met Russell Shepard, he saw a guy with more athletic ability and potential than Tyree ever had. 

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“I told him you can play in the NFL for a long time just by being a fourth or fifth receiver and playing on special teams,” McGaughey recalled. “And you can make a lot of money playing that role.”

Shepard says he probably wouldn’t be in the NFL if it were not for McGaughey.

“He created a niche for me, an opportunity, so I can provide for my family,” he said.

Shepard's role with the team will be far more than what he saw with the Buccaneers. Filling Philly Brown's role, Shepard will get plenty of looks and chances to make an impact. In fact, his skill may even allow him to challenge Funchess for the #2 WR job. He will be an integral part in revamping our ST corps - with Cash - and making his mark known in the league.

Shepard knows what his role will be with the Panthers, and he's ready to make the most of it. He's been through so much already, and he knows his future is only beginning to unfold.

To prove to the NFL he's ready to make a mark.

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“I’m a football player,” Shepard said when asked to define his role. “I’m the guy that’s going to score a touchdown for you and still go cover the kick.”

Photo published for Energetic Russell Shepard immediately stands out 

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Read my prior condensed analysis of Shepard here:

 

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This might prove to be a Gettleman signing on par with Ginn, Mitchell, or Coleman.

Love the energy he is bringing and the talking too, something we have lacked since Smitty.

Also love the fact we have brought in serious competition at receiver. KB and Funchess definitely got complacent last year, and we didn't exactly have people behind them pushing them.

I hope we can see a return to the Cam of 2015 who was slinging the ball around to everyone.



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39 minutes ago, Seltzer said:

Also love the fact we have brought in serious competition at receiver. KB and Funchess definitely got complacent last year, and we didn't exactly have people behind them pushing them.

 

Unlike last year, this year's receiver crop is actually competent. This isn't just a bunch of below average wideouts competing. These are quality receivers with plenty of upside trying to grab a spot on the team.

Training Camp is going to be fun.

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(@PhillyB Tried to take your advice and limit the amount of "woulds" and such in my post. Probably missed a few places, but reads a lot smoother than normal. Thanks.)

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All those scenes he seemed to have way more passion than anyone else in the Buccs huddle/lockerooms. I wouldn't go as far to say its anywhere near a Steve Smith level , but its something our team is desperately missing from the WR group at least. KB and Funchess play around sometimes but neither seem like leaders or seem to be very vocal in game . We just didn't have any WR with that alpha male personality and I'm hoping Shepard and Samuel bring it .

I think there should be an open competition for WR #2 . Samuel and McCaffrey are going to be in the slot alot I'm guessing. I could see Shepard winning #2 or at least becoming like you say essentially a Philly Brown type player where he's the first WR coming off the bench in most situations.

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I guess the question is.  Why did TB let him go.  They invested so much into being a quality WR.

Not fussing mind you, their loss is our gain.

Sounds like a great pickup for DG.

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2 hours ago, DaveThePanther2008 said:

I guess the question is.  Why did TB let him go.  They invested so much into being a quality WR.

Not fussing mind you, their loss is our gain.

Sounds like a great pickup for DG.

Maybe they thought they could resign him cheaply. In 2016, they signed him to a RFA tender like we did with Norwell, so they liked him enough to do that. They couldn't franchise him, so maybe we just got aggressive and gave him a solid deal and he signed it right away. Remember, this is the same team that traded up in the 2nd round for a kicker. Denver did the same type of thing (tried to be cute/cheap) with CJ Anderson before the 2016 season and had to pay Anderson a lot more when Miami offered him a contract.

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2 hours ago, DaveThePanther2008 said:

I guess the question is.  Why did TB let him go.  They invested so much into being a quality WR.

Not fussing mind you, their loss is our gain.

Sounds like a great pickup for DG.

The fans were not happy about it--that I know.

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