Monday, April 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There's more to the Bucs Russell Shepard than motivation, inspiration

TAMPA — Kwon Alexander has been listening to Russell Shepard's pregame speeches since they were teammates at LSU in 2012, and the motivational spark of hearing him hasn't worn off at all.

"I feel everything when Shep talks," Alexander said this week. "I'm used to it from college, but now, I get it every Sunday. I wait for him to talk, and it fires us all up. It hits us from the heart."

On Sunday, before the Bucs' game at the 49ers, Shepard reminded teammates that San Francisco coach Chip Kelly cut him as an undrafted rookie in 2013. He played like someone who hadn't forgotten, catching five passes for 77 yards — as many as he'd ever totaled in an entire NFL season — and the go-ahead touchdown in the Bucs' 34-17 road win.

"I love it. Shep's been doubted so many times, and he remembers every thing about that," Alexander said. "He takes that on the field and runs with it."

To his credit, Shepard made a point to find Kelly after the win, to give him a quick hug and thank him: If the Eagles hadn't signed him after the 2013 draft, he couldn't have shown the things the Bucs liked enough to claim him off waivers.

"I'm definitely grateful for the compliments, but it was one week," Shepard said this week, with the humility of a special-teams captain. "I took advantage of the opportunities. We've got a lot of things we've got to build off that week."

Shepard, 26, has made a name for himself as a star on special teams, where he led the Bucs in tackles in 2014 (14) and 2015 (10). He's played for three head coaches and three special-teams coordinators in four seasons, but the Bucs have recognize his value, despite totaling 10 catches for 113 yards in 48 games before Sunday.

"He does a lot for us," coach Dirk Koetter said. "He wears a lot of hats and if he had his way, he's be wearing more hats. He's asking for everything. He'd like to throw it, catch it, run with it, tackle it, kick it."

Shepard went to LSU as a quarterback, wound up playing more as a running back and was evaluated by many NFL teams —- including Bucs GM Jason Licht, then in Arizona —- as a cornerback. His most underrated role is as a motivator and inspiration.

"Shep brings a certain presence to our locker room," Koetter said. "He's very vocal and guys that are vocal and can back it up with good play are always welcome in your locker room."

Shepard played for the league minimum for three years, then his salary nearly tripled —- from $585,000 last year to $1.67-million this season —- as a restricted free agent. He'll be an unrestricted free agent next spring, and relishes the idea that his biggest contributions don't always make the stat sheet.

"I take pride in doing the dirty work," said Shepard, who has built a family trucking company, Shep Boys Trucking, in his native Houston. "I take pride in doing the things that most receivers don't usually do, or have to do. When you can do things like that and help the team ... You start adding in passes and things like that, that's when you kind of get the 'blowing-up' thing."

Shepard recognizes that come Sunday a different receiver may be in the spotlight, so his focus is on his central role, including work as a gunner on punt coverage. The Bucs are in position to reset the franchise record for net punting. They're the only team in the league forcing fair catches on more than half of their punts because of the ground Shepard and Josh Robinson can cover with the ball in the air.

"He does so much for this team that people don't see," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "Like he's our top special teams guy. He even gets catches with the wide receivers all the time. He's one of our main guys, period."

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