In Darrelle Revis, the Jets might have the best cornerback in the National Football League. But the Jets don't have a slouch across the way from Revis, either, in Lito Sheppard.
"When your second corner is a Pro Bowler, that's not all bad," head coach Rex Ryan said this morning. "So we'll take our chances."
Sheppard, a Pro Bowl selection in both 2005 and '06, brings welcomed speed and experience to the Jets' secondary.
"Well, first, he's very fast. He's faster than me, I know that," Revis said of his new partner. "He's fit in great and he's still learning this defense, too. But it's great strides for us right now. The gameplan is very simple — it's really not hard stuff. You just have to find out where your strengths and weaknesses are at in the defense and go from there. Lito's doing a great job."
The 5'10", 194-pound Sheppard, acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles for a fifth-round pick in the 2009 draft (No. 153 overall, Cornelius Ingram, TE, Florida) and a conditional pick in 2010, hasn't slowed down much after seven NFL seasons.
"A lot of people don't actually know my speed until I'm racing somebody who they know is really fast, and I think that's one of the things that people underrate me by," he said during a recent appearance on newyorkjets.com radio. "I guess you don't have to run a whole lot of full speed because as a corner, you are mostly backpedaling and breaking. Going into my eighth year, I'm a mid-to-high-4.3 guy. Coming out, I was in the low-to-mid-4.3 range."
Another Piece to the Puzzle
Since Revis entered the league in 2007, he's made 32 starts. But there hasn't been stability on the other island, so enter Sheppard. He's on a mission to restart his career in a different shade of green after making just three regular-season starts in Philly last season.
"I think I'm going to do pretty well," he said. "I'm already in the backfield with a great group of guys, with Revis, with Kerry [Rhodes] and with Jimmy [Leonhard]. Those guys are special, so I'm just looking to add another piece to the puzzle and make this thing more special, actually."
Sheppard has 18 career interceptions and he's always a threat to take it the distance when he gets his hands on the ball. Three of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns and he was the first player in NFL history with two returns of 100 or more yards.
"I think that tends to get a little bit forgotten about. That's not a good or bad thing, but for me being the first in NFL history — I know last year Ed Reed tied it and actually it was against us — but that's something I think I'm able to do and actually I want to own that record myself," he said of the race to get a third 100-yard return. "I'm quite sure he does also. Hopefully this year, we'll get a chance to add on to that."
Thinking Offensively on Defense
The Jets' defensive backfield has been a turnover machine early in camp as both Revis and Leonhard have picked off a trio of passes. But the Jets are also thinking offensively on defense and you saw that the other day as Leonhard and Sheppard combined for one of the summer's early highlights.
After hauling in a pass, Leonard ran forward a couple of yards and then delivered a lateral to Sheppard. Lito turned on the jets, picked up a few blocks and headed down the sideline for a would-be score.
"It was probably the 5-yard line when I died down a little bit because I know we had to go right back," Sheppard said. "But in a real game situation, I'm not stopping on the 5-yard line."
Just 28 years old, Sheppard is the most senior member of the Jets' rebuilt secondary. He's played in nine playoff games and started for the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Patriots.
"Lito has a lot of wisdom. He always tells me when he was in Philly he was with Troy Vincent and some other Pro Bowl cornerbacks," Revis said. "You might say something one time and Lito will be like 'Ah, no, think about it in a different way, this way or that way' or 'Do this that way.'
"I don't want to call him old, but we have a wise vet in Lito Sheppard. He's been to two Pro Bowls and he's been through some ups and downs, but he's here with us and he starts with us so that's good."
Praise for a Lost Mentor
Sheppard, who made 65 starts (including postseason) with the Eagles, had a lot of success under defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and was saddened to hear that one of his most influential pro mentors lost his battle with cancer last week.
"I have to credit Coach Johnson for a lot of my development," he said. "Coming into a scheme like his as a college kid, that's kind of difficult. It puts a lot of stress on you to make it in this league, but listening to what he was trying to teach me and coach me and buying into it, I think it definitely helped me become a pretty good player in this league. I have to credit a lot of my success to what he was coaching, teaching and trying to get across to his players."
Just like in Philly, Sheppard's going to be asked to play a lot of man-to-man coverage for the Green & White. Even though the system is new, he shouldn't have any difficulty adapting. He is fast, smart and ready to prove something to the world. The Jets certainly think he's a safe bet.
"He's a quick study and he has a lot of ability," Ryan said. "You like his career — he was always productive, made a lot of interceptions and things like that, so he is a playmaker as well. I see him, just his confidence, I think that's the No. 1 thing."