The Bucs offense showed enough improvement last season for ownership to promote Dirk Koetter to head coach, a move that keeps continuity for the NFL’s fifth-ranked unit.
With a nucleus of young talent, led by franchise quarterback Jameis Winston, the offense appears poised to lead Tampa Bay into future playoff contention. Experience will come with time. As for personnel, the only missing element seemed to be a vertical threat to stretch the field.
While addressing the defense is of foremost importance this May – Tampa Bay has drafted one defensive player in two years – it’s expected the Bucs will nab at least one speed receiver to compliment the corps, and the middle rounds of the NFL Draft should have solid options available. Which brings me to Day 1 of the Senior Bowl.
One player who caught eyes and seems to fit the bill of a slot receiver was Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard. The 5-foot-10, 193-pound prospect looked fluid running routes Tuesday during the North Team’s position drills and started the 11-on-11s portion with a deep post reception on the first throw. This was far from his introduction to NFL scouts, though.
A three-year starter at Oklahoma, Shepard finished on his highest note in 2015, leading the Sooners in receiving with 86 catches for 1288 yards and 11 touchdowns. Since his sophomore year in 2013, he’s out-produced his previous season by over 300 yards.
Shepard, who lit up the likes of Baylor, Tennessee and Clemson last season, was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award and named first team All-Big 12 by the league coaches. The Oklahoma native also served as the Sooners main punt returner, fielding 30 kicks since 2014 while averaging 7.8 yards per return last year. He hasn’t missed a game in three seasons.
PewterReport.com caught up with Shepard on Tuesday. Below is the transcript from his brief Q&A.
Sterling Shepard, WR Oklahoma
(On the experience of playing in the Senior Bowl)
“It means a lot. I get to go against some of the top guys in the nation and just kind of show what I got in front of all these scouts. It’s been great so far.”
(On what he took from his senior season at OU) “The camaraderie with the guys. That was such a close-knit team, the closest team I’ve ever been a part of.”
(On describing himself as a player) “I just have a knack for making big plays. I feel like I do a good job of getting open and finding the ball.”
(On difficulty working with new QBs for a week) “It can be a little different. Some guys have different releases, but at the end of the day, it’s football. We have to catch the ball and run routes. I feel like once I get all the thinking out of the way, I’ll be able to play a lot smoother.”
(On draft process)
“It’s definitely exciting. I’ve been working my tail off for (events like Senior Bowl and Combine) and it’s nice to get started.”
(On his biggest stride from junior to senior year) “I think route running. That was the main area I made strides. I didn’t do too good of a job with it today, but I think I think I’ll be alright later in the week.”
(On progressing every season in college) “For sure, I feel like that’s how it should go. You want to get better every year. That’s what you do during the offseason – work on things you didn’t do so well the season before. I feel like I did that from my freshman year on.”
(On whose game he admires, compares to in the NFL) “I definitely look at Antonio Brown. He has a knack for making big plays and he’s going to get it done no matter how tough it is. The coverage is going to be tough, but he’s going to find a way to get it done. I feel like I have a similar thought process.”
(On playing the slot) “I’m a receiver, outside or inside it doesn’t matter.”
PewterReport.com’s 2016 Reese’s Senior Bowl coverage is sponsored by Gerber Collision & Glass.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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