Pictures from the Bucs' training camp practice on Satuday.
One of the things that makes 22-year-old quarterback Jameis Winston such a surprisingly effective leader is that, apparently, he takes the time to get to know his teammates very well. That was evident on Saturday when Winston spoke about the off-the-field motivating factors that are helping wide receivers Russell Shepard and Bernard Reedy excel in training camp.
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Shepard is seeking to make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' regular-season roster for the fourth season in a row, and he had two NFL years under his belt before Winston even arrived in Tampa. It is his undeniable prowess in the kick-and-return game, however, that has been mostly responsible for his NFL career to this point. Shepard was Tampa Bay's special teams captain and leading tackler in kick coverage last year, but his three-year totals on offense include just seven receptions and one touchdown.
While he continues to excel in the third phase of the game, Shepard is trying to carve out more of a role on offense, which would help his chances of building an even longer NFL career. In Thursday's preseason opener, Shepard led the Bucs' receiving corps with 62 yards on three catches and caught Winston's lone TD pass, a 26-yarder in the first quarter. That follows a strong two weeks of training camp in which Shepard has seen a significant amount of playing time with the first and second-team offenses.
Winston thinks a special arrival between last season and this one has pushed Shepard to take his game to another level.
"It's so amazing because Russell just had a child this offseason," said Winston. "And I told him after the game, I said, 'You're playing like you just had a baby boy.' He has something to play for. Day-in and day-out, Russell Shepard is out there putting in work."
Though it happened before he was in the NFL, Winston also knows that Shepard's professional career began in Philadelphia. He signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent after playing a sort of jack-of-all-trades offensive role at LSU. The Eagles made him a receiver but waived him in early September of his 2013 rookie season. The Buccaneers claimed him and Shepard hasn't been without a job since.
Shepard's only regular-season touchdown, thrown by Winston, also took place at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field during last year's 45-17 rout of the Eagles. As it turns out, that was no coincidence.
"He had another chip on his shoulder because that was a team that cut him," said Winston of Shepard. "That's why we took emphasis in making sure he scored a touchdown last year against Philly. He just played an amazing game and you just see his work ethic and the things that he [does] is amazing."
Reedy made his Buccaneer debut on Thursday and had 32 yards on two receptions plus an 18-yard kickoff return. Though he began his career with the Atlanta Falcons – on the practice squad as a rookie and then back in Falcons camp in 2015 – Reedy's signing with the Buccaneers in February was a homecoming. He played his prep football at Lakewood High School in the Bay area, where he was a first-team all-state honoree.
Joining the Buccaneers also put Reedy back with Head Coach Dirk Koetter, who was the Falcons' offensive coordinator in his rookie year. A speedy receiver and potential weapon in the slot, Reedy could catch on with a third NFL club if he doesn't make the Bucs' roster this fall, but Winston thinks a desire to stay with the home team is driving the young receiver to shine.
"[He's a] very exciting player," said Winston. "He had a big game for us in that Philly game too. And it's just the same thing, just the mentality that he has, kind of similar to Louis Murphy, him being from St. Pete, him being a Tampa native, him just being home. He's doing everything he can to keep working hard so he can stay here and play [at] home."
The Bucs' wide receiver depth chart remains in flux behind the top three of Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Adam Humphries, and most of the candidates for the remaining two or three spots are also lacking in NFL experience. If Shepard and Reedy can win out in that competition it may be because they were too motivated to lose.