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TRAINING CAMP 2009: Lito's New Beginning

By Matt Waters
Jets Insider.com, Staff Writer
August 2nd, 2009
Jets CB Lito Sheppard is eager to make a good impression with his new team. (JetsInsider.com Photo)
Jets CB Lito Sheppard is eager to make a good impression with his new team. (JetsInsider.com Photo)
“It’s a rejuvenating feeling,” said Lito Sheppard with an unburdened smile and unequivocally optimistic tinge in his voice. The former Pro Bowl cornerback spoke of new beginnings after Sunday’s morning practice, a refugee from a team that had drafted, developed, and eventually given up on him.

Indeed, Sheppard’s tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles ended on a bitter note, the two-time Pro Bowl selected player was benched and eventually traded out of town. Prior to his struggles in 2008, Sheppard had ridden along an upward curve after entering the league in 2002, a late first round pick. He asserted himself as a sophomore, earning Pro Bowl nod number one, recording five interceptions and starting in fifteen games. He lined up as a starting corner in Super Bowl XXXIX. An injury short-circuited his 2005 in week ten, but 2006 saw Sheppard grab six interceptions, along with tickets for a return trip to Hawaii. Here, seemingly, was a young, productive player turning into a franchise fixture.

But Sheppard’s stock slid among the Eagle coaching staff, leading to 2008’s precipitous depth chart drop. Sheppard had regressed from potential fixture to total afterthought, and it was time for all parties to move on. Enter the Jets, now operating under a new coach determined to overhaul the secondary. General Manager Mike Tannenbaum decided to buy low, sacrificing both a conditional and fifth round draft pick in exchange for Sheppard’s services. If Sheppard is able to reverse his downward spiral, the Jets’ secondary could be completely lethal, featuring two shutdown corners and a pair of excellent coverage safeties.

Optimism abounds in camp, allowing the players, coaches, and front office people to dream of possibilities. Sheppard, in particular, seems enthused… regarding just about everything. “I love it, to tell you the truth,” he raved, this time about Rex Ryan’s training camp.“There is definitely an emphasis on your legs. It’s definitely hard work. I think [Rex is doing] a better [job] preparing us and not killing us.” He was also a big fan of a defense the Jets spent millions of dollars renovating in the off-season. Referring to the new additions, including him, Sheppard exclaimed that, “It was already a great defense,” before the myriad of trades and signings completely changed the face of it. While the Jet hierarchy obviously begged to differ on that particular statement, it is refreshing to hear a player so openly excited about the prospects of his team. Sheppard also expressed confidence that the defensive unit was beginning to gel. “It’s starting to come together,” he said, smile ever-present. “We’re starting to make plays… We’re shooting to be number one.”

The glad tidings at this Jet camp all start with the man in charge, Rex Ryan. He imparted his take on Sheppard during the daily afternoon press conference. “A great corner,” said Ryan, when queried about the former Eagle. “A Pro Bowl corner. Lito obviously is the starter.” Ryan also discussed how Sheppard’s previous experience with an attack defense should translate well with his new employer. “Yeah, you can’t be afraid to play man-coverage in this system,” Ryan said. “I mean, I think a corner in this cover-2 system would be playing safety,” added the gregarious head coach, with a chuckle. “A Pro-Bowl second cornerback,” Ryan pondered, as if thinking out loud, “We’ll take our chances.”

The Jets and Sheppard both appear plenty bullish on their future together. It will take the player from a receding past for the summer confidence to prove prophetic.

OVER 160 EXCLUSIVE CORTLAND TRAINING CAMP PHOTOS! **New Photos Being Added Daily** For the largest gallery of exclusive Jets training camp photos on the internet: CLICK HERE

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