Shamar Stephen had a disappointing preseason, not because he had bad on-field performances – on the contrary, every time he was on the field he looked as though he was one of the most improved players on the team. He would perform well in preseason games and would often win on-on-one battles in practices.
What made his offseason disappointing is he was constantly dealing with injuries. He missed time at the start of training camp, made it back in and performed well, and then had to sit out again after having arthroscopic knee surgery.
“Sometimes it gets a little frustrating but my thing is just focusing on what I can do and what I can do to help the team out,” Stephen said. “So I’m just working back, getting stronger, working on my technique and trying to get back so I can play.”
Stephen returned to practice on Tuesday, but only on a limited basis. He warmed up with the team, participated in some individual positional drills but then left the field.
When he isn’t able to participate in practice, Stephen is busy taking mental reps and following around the defensive line to see what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. He does this so he can incorporate the things his teammates do well into his own game.
“I’ve been following around the D-line getting my mental reps and just taking it as it is, and just looking at the veteran guys being able to play and be able to take the mental reps off what they’re doing.” he said. “Knowing what to do is a big part and just knowing what to do and making sure I’m focused mentally and prepared mentally.
“I watch film and I watch the guys and what they’re doing. See how they win and see how they get off blocks and mentally prepare every time.”
One of the players that Stephen really keys in on is defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. Floyd proved to be a very good pass rusher a year ago, so Stephen tries to watch what Floyd does with his hands and feet, and you can often see Stephen working on the same motions on the sideline after Floyd runs a play.
After practice, Floyd, Stephen and a lot of the other defensive lineman will often get together and talk about different things from either games or practices, just as a way to keep everyone sharp.
“We talk football all the time,” Floyd said. “We learn ball all day and (Stephen) being out, he gets a lot of mental reps, so he communicates well on things he sees and things he thinks can be better. So we talk a good bit to keep him in that loop.”
Floyd dealt with injuries during the regular season last year and they kept him out of some practices and out of two games. He knows how difficult sitting out can be but doesn’t feel like there is a lot of advice he can give Stephen about what to do while sitting out or ways to get back faster. It is all up to him.
“It’s just a mindset,” Floyd said. “We know he’ll be back, we know what he can do, so when he gets back he just needs to work. That’s all it is, so we’re hoping for a speedy recovery so he can contribute on Monday.”
Monday marks the Vikings first regular season game, but Stephen is not sure if he will be able to participate in it yet or not. He said that is all up to the team’s head coach Mike Zimmer, but if it were up to him you would likely be seeing Stephen out there.