CB Sheppard in ‘prove-it' mode

The Vikings have a lot of capable players vying for playing time at cornerback, but the addition of a two-time Pro Bowl player with something to prove could be a welcome bonus. Lito Sheppard talked about a number of reasons he wanted to sign with the Vikings.

After eight years in the NFL, cornerback Lito Sheppard has been exposed to a variety of defenses, styles and coaches.

This year, despite familiarity with a couple of coaches from his Philadelphia days, Sheppard gets some Northern exposure to the Vikings' version of the Cover-2 defense.

"It's more terminology. It's a lot of what I did my first seven years in the league, but with some little tweaks here and there," Sheppard said after his second practice with the Vikings this week. "It's just about me getting the terminology down and being able to communicate with my teammates."

The former Philadelphia Eagle and New York Jet is getting plenty of opportunities this week, as starting cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin aren't taking part in the organized team activities and Benny Sapp, who was used in Winfield's absence last year, was absent for at least Wednesday, when the media was given access.

Sheppard may have familiarity with the Cover-2 defensive concepts that the Vikings often employ, but he hasn't been immersed in Minnesota's version.

"For guys like Lito Sheppard that is here for the first time, he is getting a Master's Degree in the Cover-2 defense," said Vikings coach Brad Childress, who was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia when Sheppard was there. "We played a little Cover-2 in Philadelphia and in New York they did, but everybody does things just a little bit differently so it's great for him to get up to speed."

Sheppard's familiarity with some of the coaching staff helped attract him to the Vikings, but there were other factors as well. One of those was how close the team came to the Super Bowl. The talent already in place played a big role.

"That was a big thing this offseason. I've always been a part of a pretty good team and I didn't want that to change," Sheppard said. "I'm glad the opportunity came up here for me to come to a pretty strong team already."

Another reason was the opportunity. If injuries weren't a factor, the Vikings may not have looked into Sheppard. But the team has its share of concerns there.

Both starting cornerbacks are question marks early in the season. Antoine Winfield missed six games last year with a fractured foot and Cedric Griffin tore his anterior cruciate ligament in overtime of the NFC Championship game.

Sheppard hasn't been given any guarantees that he will start if one of the top two cornerbacks is missing for the season opener, but he knows there is a opportunity for that.

"That's always my goal when I step on the field. The coaches will make that final decision, but I'm going to do everything in my power to make that happen," he said. "Obviously because of the situation we have, because of injuries, it's a chance. But they never guarantee anything. It's just an open competition and I'm looking forward to that."

Finally, his contract played a role. He signed only a one-year contract with the Vikings and is looking to prove that the reviews he received in New York last year weren't accurate. After giving up a fourth-=round pick to obtain him, the Jets benched him in AFC Championship and ultimately released him to get away from his big contract. They then drafted Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson in the first round.

"That was the biggest thing, coming into a situation to where the contract wasn't a problem," he said. "I felt like it was definitely an open competition here and that's what basically made my decision to come here. I don't want contracts to be an issue about whether I play or not and I felt like this was the best situation for me."

Sheppard will receive only $1.25 million in base pay. Considering his credentials, there is little risk to the Vikings.

They are getting a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback who is looking to prove himself once again after losing the confidence of his teams the last two years. After spending the first seven years of his career in Philadelphia and having 14 interceptions over a three-year period (2004-06), he only started three games in 2008 and rebounded somewhat in New York, where he started nine games for the Jets despite battling through injuries.

He admitted it was humbling to be released, but he's ready to keep proving himself.

"I felt like I'm still a pretty good player, top corner in this league, so getting a job wasn't an issue – it was just about where," he said. "I'm lucky to land in a situation like this."

Sheppard had many reasons for choosing the Vikings – from their injury situation to the talent already on the roster – but proving himself as a player might be tops on that list.

"I think once you start working with everybody, I think that's how you get their respect more so than anything," he said.

"… They are definitely going to see what I'm capable of doing and it will show."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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