By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
Kelvin Sheppard reported to work Monday morning, ready to continue his job as a starting middle linebacker for the Buffalo Bills.
By day’s end, the former LSU star was in Indianapolis ready to start a new life in the NFL with the Colts.
“It was a shock to pretty much everybody in the facility,” Sheppard said of the trade that sent former first-round pick Jerry Hughes to Buffalo in exchange for his services. “My teammates were sad, upset about it. But, hey, it’s the nature of the business, and now, being here, I hopped on a flight that night, got in town that night and went straight to the facility the following morning. By the time I stepped in the doors, it’s just been all open arms, from everybody top to bottom.”
Sheppard joins a large group for former LSU defenders with the Colts. LaRon Landry and Ricky Jean Francois were signed as free agents last month. And his good friend, and former teammate, Drake Nevis is beginning his third season in Indianapolis.
“Me and Drake spent all our years together at LSU,” Sheppard said. “We’ve done everything together. The grind, the summer grind, the spring grind, all the way to winning national championships, we’ve done it all. Drake, I know what he brings to the table with his work ethic, his Christian faith, everything like that. The same with me. I’m going to bring my hard hat every single day, and I come to try to hoist that trophy, and that sounds like exactly what they’re trying to do here.”
Sheppard started 15 games with the Bills last season, recording 77 tackles and two sacks. He has 143 tackles and two sacks in 32 games overall since being selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft.
In Indianapolis, Sheppard will play in head coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s hybrid 3-4 scheme. The defense reminds Sheppard of the one he excelled in at LSU.
“I like it because it’s very multiple,” he said. “You can do a lot more things in the 3-4, and, to be honest, I truly fell in love with this coaching staff. I love their attitude, the way they coach the game, everything.”
SUPPORT FOR COLLINS: The Colts were unanimous in their support for NBA free agent center Jason Collins — who became the first male athlete in any of the four major American professional sports to come out as gay on Monday.
To a man, the players said they would support and accept any openly gay teammate in their locker room. But punter Pat McAfee went a little deeper than most.
He suggested there’s a generational gap between today’s players and the media and that sexual orientation isn’t a big deal amongst his peers.
“You might see it a little bit in the locker room, guys that have never met a gay person might say some dumb things early,” McAfee said. “But once you befriend a gay person, and once somebody gets in a locker room, you become a family. That’s the way I think it will be accepted in the NFL whenever it happens, and ignorance will be enlightened, and everything will be cool.
“I think it’s definitely a good thing. People will be comfortable with who they are. I’m definitely happy Jason Collins was the first guy to step up and do it because hopefully more guys will be able to get it off their chest, be comfortable and just live their life. That’s what it’s all about.”
WAYNE RETURNS: Veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne is looking to join a rare club this season, becoming just the 13th player in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving yards at age 35.
To do so, Wayne will need to learn his third offense in the past three seasons. Indianapolis is switching to a new scheme featuring West Coast principles this season under coordinator Pep Hamilton.
Wayne said his teammates seem to be picking up the new scheme faster than they caught on to Bruce Arians’ vertical attack last season. But the new offense will take time to master.
“I take my hats off to those guys who learn new offenses every year throughout their careers,” Wayne said. “It definitely has given me some grey hairs, but it keeps me fresh, keeps me focused. I know one thing, I won’t get tired of boredom. There’s always something new that you have to learn. It takes away from the family time, but at the same time it’s pretty fun.”
BACK ON THE FIELD: This week is the first time the Colts can get back on the practice field this offseason. But the team is extremely limited in what it can do.
Players are allowed to work in individual position groups, but common drills such as 7-on-7 passing sessions — with receivers running routes against defensive backs — will have to wait a couple more weeks.
Still, veteran safety Antoine Bethea said, there’s plenty to accomplish this week.
“It’s really important to have everybody here, building chemistry offensively, defensively, special teams,” Bethea said. “Everybody getting comfortable with the playbook so when training camp comes around (in late July), we can just run right into it.”