ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.– While the additions on the defensive line have been the talk of the off-season, the Buffalo Bills can’t stop raving about Kelvin Sheppard.
The Bills, who have been looking for a long-term answer at the middle linebacker position since London Fletcher left town in 2007, have high hopes after the second-year linebacker made a strong impression during Organized Team Activities.
“I think he potentially could be one of the best linebackers Buffalo has ever seen,” Bills linebacker Nick Barnett said after Tuesday’s practice. “If he has his head on straight and continues to grow the way he’s growing the way that he plays. He could be a great player.”
After the Bills decided to switch back to a 4-3 alignment earlier this off-season, the team quickly determined that Sheppard would take over at middle linebacker, a position where the LSU product can excel in new co-ordinator Dave Wannstedt’s defence.
The Bills saw enough out of Sheppard, who finished with 60 total tackles during his final 10 games of his rookie season, where they thought the team’s third-round pick in 2011 could best show off his impressive size and playmaking ability at the middle linebacker spot.
“Sheppard played well last year and that’s what gave us the confidence that he can play the position this year,” Bills head coach Chan Gailey said. “He’s a big, strong physical guy inside which we need.
“He’s an intelligent guy. He plays hard and he’s physical. Really his play last year is what allowed us to think he could do the job this year.”
Barnett, who is moving to outside to make room for Sheppard in the middle of the team’s base defence, was blown away with his teammate’s work ethic during his rookie season and believes the player has the potential to make a big jump now that he has a full off-season to work with his coaches and teammates.
“He can study. Last year I don’t think I’ve ever had a rookie come to my house as much as he did since I’ve been in the league to watch film. I think he’s a student of the game. If he continues that mindset he can be one of the greats.”
Now that he’s back in a familiar 4-3 defence, the 24-year-old dropped 10 pounds in the off-season and is showing that he’s ready to take a step forward and become an impact player in his sophomore season.
“Obviously his body type is a pretty big linebacker and runs like a linebacker of my size,” Barnett explained. “He can hit. He’s physical. He’s smart. He loves the game of football. When you’re in the locker room you see young guys, sometimes you can really tell they don’t love the game of football even though they’re good players. He loves to play football.”
“He showed up in great shape and his attitude is good and I think he’s excited about this scheme.” Wannstedt told WGR 550 SportsRadio in Buffalo on Monday.
While Sheppard and newcomer Mario Williams stood out on Tuesday with his ability to penetrate and get into the backfield, Gailey was happy to see former Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman getting after the quarterback.
“He looks quick to me. He’s coming off the edge with that same speed and quickness that I remember,” Gailey told reporters after practice. “He’s bouncing off at the end of practice like he did at the start of practice.”
The new-look Bills continue their second week of OTAs at the team’s practice facility on Thursday.