Whether it's selecting players in the first round or the seventh round, when NFL draft rooms convene, one of the things they look for in players are those who display leadership ability. Seventh-round defensive tackle Shamar Stephen fits that bill. As a four-year starter at UConn, Stephen was a team captain as a senior and, little did he know at the start of the year, that leadership would be severely tested.
"I have a lot of experience," Stephen said. "It definitely helped me develop and helped out the team this year."
The Huskies needed a lot of help in 2013. The team was in disarray in late September after head coach Pat Pasqualoni was fired after a 0-4 start and the team was in danger of disintegrating and falling apart. It was up to the leadership within the team to keep the program steadied during the hard times.
"It was definitely a big role to fill – trying to motivate and getting the players to keep playing and don't worry about the stuff that happened off the field," Stephen said. "We (focused) on how we could improve and win games."
Clearly the Vikings saw something in his leadership and athleticism, making him one of their "top 30" rookie recruits brought into Winter Park for a pre-draft visit. For a player that was seen as a Day 3 draft choice, it was a honor that neither Stephen nor the Vikings forgot on draft weekend.
"The Vikings were one of my first visits," Stephen said. "Being one of their top 30, I was definitely appreciative of the coaching staff and what they did for me. I'm just focused and they've presented me with an opportunity."
Stephen is also excited about the prospect of coming to the defensive scheme that runs in waves and will likely keep one or two more defensive linemen than most NFL teams when the final rosters are set. As a dominant two-gap run-stuffer who could take on double teams, free himself from blocks and penetrate into the backfield, Stephen is looking forward to making an impression on the coaching staff and giving him a chance to take full advantage of his opportunity.
"I like Coach Zimmer's scheme," Stephen said. "He's definitely a defensive-minded coach and he definitely looks for a lot of ability from my position especially – handle the two-gap and shed blocks. It's a key thing"
For a player whose senior season was marred by coaching controversy and disappointment, Stephen was concerned that the lack of team success hurt his draft stock. He had hoped to come off the board long before the seventh round, but, in the end, he was happy that a team that had expressed such an interest in him before the draft backed up that confidence by selecting him on draft day.< br>
"It was definitely a long wait, but the wait was well worth it," Stephen said.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Stephen looking forward to making DL rotation
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