There aren’t a ton of superlatives to describe Tampa Bay Buccaneers veteran Russell Shepard. He isn’t the fastest wide receiver on the team, nor is he the biggest, strongest or most dynamic. But that’s not to say the fourth-year pro from LSU doesn’t do his part to stand out. Year after year Shepard distinguishes himself among the hardest working Buccaneers, dedicated to the process and doing whatever it takes to stick around and do his part for the betterment of the team. Bubble players at training camps all over the country, no matter the position, would be doing themselves a service to check out Shepard’s path to NFL relevancy. Shepard came to Tampa Bay a day after he was cut as an undrafted invitee to Philadelphia’s camp in 2013. Since then he’s managed to play in 43 of 48 games the past three seasons despite catching only seven passes. Despite all the competition, from big-bodied possession receivers to short-statured speedsters, Shepard continues getting the nod on final 53-man rosters for his committed and capable play on special teams. “The biggest thing for me is to just be able to make an impact for this team, whatever they ask me to do,” Shepard said Saturday after practice. “Whether it’s catching balls, making tackles on special teams, blocking front line – I’m a team guy first and that’s what I’ve been brought up on and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.” There’s nothing phony about those comments and if special-teams specialist is the role head coach Dirk Koetter and the Buccaneers carve out for Shepard again this year, he’s good with it. That’s not to say he wouldn’t mind a few more game snaps with the offense, though. And with a little less than a month to go before Week 1 in Atlanta, Shepard continues making it hard for coaches to ignore his play. “As far as the wide receivers in particular, I thought two guys stepped up and showed that they’re in the mix and that’s Russell Shepard and Donteea Dye,” Koetter said during Friday’s press conference. “Those two guys made plays.” Shepard finished Thursday’s loss to Philadelphia with a game-high 63 receiving yards on three receptions, including a 26-yard catch-and-run touchdown from quarterback Jameis Winston in the first quarter. The last touchdown grab Shepard made in an NFL game came last year and was his first and only career score in a regular season game. It also came in Philadelphia – the franchise that gave him his first shot before cutting him four months later. That fact wasn’t lost upon the Bucs and Winston last year and it came up again before Thursday night’s preseason game, as well. “He had another chip on his shoulder because that was the team that cut him,” Winston said Saturday. “That’s why we put an emphasis on making sure he scored a touchdown last year against Philly. He just played an amazing game and you just see his work ethic and the things he can do. It’s amazing.” Even though Shepard’s in his fourth NFL training camp and knows what to expect on a daily basis, he still goes through practice treating every rep as an opportunity. “The biggest thing is to come out and get reps,” Shepard said while also touching on playing within Koetter’s system for a second year. “The biggest thing I will say about Dirk’s offense and his practice schedule is that it gives other guys the opportunity to get reps and that’s probably been the biggest thing in my career thus far – being able to get enough reps to make up for not playing as much receiver.” Shepard’s work ethic, aptitude on special teams and ability to take advantage what practice reps he gets has helped get the him to where he is now. Year four, however, is being fueled by an added source, Winston said. And it’s hard to miss. “It’s so amazing, because Russell just had a child this offseason,” the second-year quarterback said. “And I told him, ‘You’re playing like you just had a baby boy.’ He has something to play for. Day-in and day-out, Russell Shepard is out there putting in work.”
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