By Mary Cunningham
As the late, great Al Davis used to say, the NFL stands for:
Not For Long!
Which the 5-9 (5-10 on a good day) nickel back Brandon Boykin learned when the Eagles traded him to the Steelers Saturday night.
And which the 5-11, 200-pound banger JaCorey Shepherd learned yesterday when he became Boykin’s replacement during the Birds’ first day of 2015 training camp.
According to Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, Shepherd didn’t get very much notice that he’d be elevated on the depth chart prior to Sunday’s first practice of camp.
“He got news last night he was going to be with the ones,” Jenkins said after practice. “The biggest thing with him is, he’s been hungry. He’s pulled me aside. He’s pulled the coaches aside to do extra stuff. He spends extra time in the film room, to learn stuff.
“He’s very, very confident. He has all of the physical attributes to really be successful in the slot. He’s smart enough to learn it. We’re looking forward to seeing that development over the next few weeks. If it’s not him, we have veterans behind him that can play.”
Shepherd appeared in 42 games at Kansas after making the switch from wide receiver to cornerback his freshman season. As a Jayhawk, the 22-year-old finished with 90 tackles, five interceptions and 36 pass breakups.
He says that the biggest adjustment is moving inside after spending his time at Kansas as an outside cornerback.
“I didn’t play any nickel in college,” Shepherd explained. “It’s new for me. It’s just the run fills, though. You have to know the play calls that you have run fills for and ones you don’t.
“I have to be a lot more courteous of who I’m working with on each play. Whether I’m working with the linebacker or the outside corner. Corner it’s usually the corner and the safety working together whereas at nickel I can be working with one, two or all three.”
As of Sunday, Shepherd said that he hasn’t been given any indication whether he will continue as the starting nickel corner or eventually move outside.
“We didn’t have no talk like that. There was one position meeting with the depth chart up there, and it was one of those things you see it and prepare for what you have to go out there and do.
Sheperd says that he texted Boykin shortly after the news of the trade went down, wishing him luck.
“I look at it as both a blessing for both him and me,” Shepherd said of Boykin being dealt. “He gets to go somewhere and do what he wanted to do … Get an opportunity to play outside corner. For me, it’s an opportunity to get early playing time. It does kind of stink not to have someone there as far as someone I could go to for questions, but we do have older guys that have played nickel, too. I can still go to them for help.”
The Kansas product was one of the early standouts during the spring’s OTAs and minicamp and did not appear to skip a beat as training camp got underway Sunday afternoon.
While there does not appear to be a permanent solution in place for the vacancy left behind by Boykin’s departure, the opportunity for Sheperd to seize the position certainly seems to be there and will likely be worth watching throughout the summer.