Sheppard's impact still around the corner

Lito Sheppard is trying to win a starting job in his first year with the Vikings. As a former Pro Bowler, he is dispensing advice. As a newbie to the Vikings, he's also seeking it. So how much Sheppard actually contributes remains to be seen, but he talked about the transition and his expectations.

Lito Sheppard is playing dueling roles with the Minnesota Vikings.

He is a veteran leader that earned respect over his career, yet he is a rookie in the Vikings' system. Sheppard is a former Pro Bowl player, yet he might not hold down a starting job.

The acquisition of 5-foot-10, 195-pound cornerback has caused all kinds of interesting questions about where he will fit in, but the move is mostly about having a veteran insurance policy with a few unknowns at the position entering training camp.

Sheppard's eight years of NFL experience allow him to offer some advice to the younger cornerbacks still trying to make an impression, but he is still learning the nuances of the Vikings' defensive system himself. It has created an interesting dynamic – sometimes he's dispensing advice to younger players and other times he's seeking it from them.

"It's a little bit of both. I definitely have a lot of wisdom to bring to the table. (The defense) isn't necessarily new to me, it's about revisiting that. It's definitely coming back," Sheppard said. "How we did things in Philadelphia, I kind of translate that to what they're doing now and we work with each other."

Sheppard spent the first seven years of his eight-year career in Philadelphia, grabbing a combined 14 interceptions from 2004-2006 and earning Pro Bowl status. He was traded to the New York Jets last year, where he made nine starts but was eventually demoted at the end of the season.

His signing with the Vikings reunites him with Leslie Frazier, who was the defensive backs coach in Philadelphia during Sheppard's first year in the league. Frazier still uses some of the defensive principles learned under the late Jim Johnson, who was the respected long-time defensive coordinator with the Eagles during the majority of Sheppard's career there.

"It's a lot of similarities. I was in Philadelphia for my first seven years, so a lot of it is just revisiting some of those calls and just getting back the familiarity with the terminology. It's been a smooth transaction," said Sheppard, who believes Frazier's personality hasn't changed much either.

"He's the same. He's always been a very thorough coach and he does a good job explaining what he wants. He's pretty much the same to me. I've always respected him for that and look forward to continuing that."

Johnson was known as an aggressive coordinator who put pressure on offenses with a combination of blitz packages that he called upon often. Frazier is working under the more conservative Tampa-2 style of base defense, but he has proven he isn't afraid to dial up the blitzes either.

"I think it's all on the coach's personality and the makeup of the team. The calls are the calls and the coverages are coverages, so it's just about how they feel they need to call it. It depends on how aggressive the defense can be," Sheppard said.

But just how much Sheppard will be part of the defense remains to be seen.

With Cedric Griffin continuing to rehab a torn anterior cruciate ligament that he suffered in overtime of the NFC Championship game, Sheppard was the starting right cornerback in minicamp and organized team activities.

"I think he must have found the fountain of youth down there in Florida," said head coach Brad Childress, who spent four years with Sheppard in Philadelphia, last month. "Bright-eyed, smiles, competes. He is just soaking it all in."

Sheppard is hardly a shoo-in to winning a starting job when the regular season begins. In addition to the eventual return of Griffin, the Vikings still have Benny Sapp, who started in Antoine Winfield's absence last year, an improving Asher Allen, and they drafted Chris Cook in the second round.

"With the situation, depth is needed. I'm definitely coming in with the mentality of being a starter and we'll definitely see how that goes," Sheppard said. "I'm just going to do my best and the coaches will put who needs to be out there, out there."

For now, Sheppard – the man with 19 career interceptions and 61 career starts – is likely to open training camp as the starter at right cornerback, but he's been all over the field during spring practices. He's played left and right cornerback and even made a few appearances as the nickel back, a position he hasn't played before.

After eight years in the league, 2010 is all about adjusting to new teammates and somewhat new coaches and schemes for Sheppard.


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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