Over the past few weeks Bills rookie inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard has been steadily seeing more and more time on the defensive side of the ball on Sundays. This past weekend at MetLife Stadium proved to be his most extensive action thus far, and head coach Chan Gailey confirmed that the time is drawing close for him to assume a starting role.
"Yeah he's sitting right there ready to take over that role," said Gailey. "Whether he starts or not, I don't know, but he's going to get the majority of the snaps."
Buffalo's defensive staff has been encouraged by Sheppard's play the past few weeks. He got a handful of snaps in Week 4 at Cincinnati and then about 15 against Philadelphia. Against the Giants Sunday he got more as the Bills have tried to methodically expose him to live action knowing he missed out on a lot of it in the preseason due to a hamstring injury this summer.
"That's kind of how it's been going," Sheppard told Buffalobills.com. "It's all because of training camp with the injury I had so they kind of wanted to slowly work me in there and make sure my leg was right and then kind of make sure I had everything down and transfer it from practice to the game."
"Until they play you don't know how much they know," said Gailey. "You can play at practice and look good, but until they get in a game you don't know how they're going to play. That's why preseason games are so vital for those guys and he missed those, so that was the thing that hurts him."
Sheppard admits his play hasn't been perfect, but he feels he's improved with each passing week. Now it appears he's come to the point where he's going to supplant the veteran that helped teach him the scheme during the lockout in Andra Davis.
"Me and Sheppard had a lot of time to spend together," Davis said. "We were down in Atlanta training together and texting each other all the time. Anything that he needed I was trying to be there for him. He's played in arguably the best conference in football down in the SEC. But he's a humble young kid. Anytime you get a guy like that you're definitely willing to help him out a whole lot. He's very, very smart."
So smart in fact that he was calling out some of Philadelphia's plays prior to the snap two weeks ago, something that comes as no surprise to his head coach.
"Having him at the Senior Bowl was a big benefit and we saw how he prepared," said Gailey. "What he was able to do in meetings and practices and taking that to a game. So I'm not shocked at all. I'm happy that he's done it so quickly because it's a different game here than it was in college. I think he's got a very bright future ahead of him with our football team."
Buffalo's other veteran inside linebacker Nick Barnett has also been acting as a tutor of sorts to get Sheppard up to speed.
"Nick has come to my house a few times to talk with me, sometimes not even about football," said Sheppard. "So that input along with Andra, who worked out with me down in Atlanta for two weeks this summer… I mean I couldn't have walked into any better situation than being here with these vets."
Knowing his veteran players have acted so selflessly only increases the amount of respect Buffalo's head coach has for them.
"That says a lot about the character of our football team," said Gailey. "The character of our football team in my opinion is unquestioned. They want to win. They take responsibility. They understand that responsibility is very important, to be a leader, to be a mentor. They take it seriously."
And Sheppard feels all of the guidance provided by Davis and Barnett has not only helped to make up for the time on the field lost to the NFL lockout, but also put him on the fast track to success.
"The anticipation is one of the things I think I've improved the most in my game," Sheppard said. "The physical part, at this level everyone is going to pretty physical and has athletic ability. It's the extra things that I know now that Nick Barnett and Andra Davis have taught me. Learning the tendencies of offenses and quarterbacks, anything from the way the quarterback looks or points. The detail to which they take it at this level is crazy."
"Shep is doing a good job," said Barnett. "He's getting opportunities now and he got a chance to step in and make some plays. Once he gets a little more comfortable he'll be a force to be reckoned with."