Veteran Avant takes rookie Shepard under his wing

LES BOWEN / DAILY NEWS STAFF Russell Shepard, an undrafted wide receiver, is learning from Eagles veteran Jason Avant.
LES BOWEN / DAILY NEWS STAFF Russell Shepard, an undrafted wide receiver, is learning from Eagles veteran Jason Avant.
Posted: June 03, 2013

AFTER EAGLES practice sessions this spring, a few players typically stay on the field to work with the JUGS machine, catching footballs. That group always includes veteran wideout Jason Avant and undrafted rookie Russell Shepard.

Avant is there because this is how he has forged a solid 7-year career, despite being really slow by NFL standards and not especially big, at 6-foot, 212. Shepard is there because, when he signed with the Eagles out of LSU after a disappointing draft experience, he asked the advice of Eagles director of player programs Harold Carmichael.

"He said, 'Find Jason. Watch him and do everything he does,' " Shepard recalled yesterday.

So that was what Shepard did.

"I like to see anybody that comes in that has the mindset to work, and Russell has the mindset to work. I want him to reach his full potential," Avant said. "Anything I can do to help [younger players], whether that's catching JUGS or showing them things in the film room, correcting 'em on the field, just life examples, all those kinds of things."

Avant stayed out in the heat an hour after practice yesterday, even a little while after Shepard went in, Avant and safety Kurt Coleman working the machine.

"It's a craft," Avant, 30, said. "You want to be the best at your craft. You don't just catch balls on Sunday; it'll never happen like that. It's repetition, it's getting comfortable with the ball, knowing why you miss a pass, knowing which way to put your hands - all of those types of things, it's just repetition. Before you know it, you're comfortable with the football in your hands . . . People will be, like, 'Oh, that was an amazing catch,' it's something you create, to be a routine, daily."

Avant said he sees Shepard as "a kid who is willing to work hard. He's a great talent. He can do a lot of everything . . . He has a great chance of making this team."

Shepard's signing with LSU was huge news; he and USC's Matt Barkley, now his Eagles teammate, were the top two QB recruits in the country in 2009. But at LSU, Shepard quickly was switched to wideout and running back. He never really established himself at either spot.

Shepard served a three-game suspension in 2011 over divulging information to a teammate about an NCAA probe into a player adviser named Willie Lyles. (Lyles, coincidentally or not, is the key figure in the NCAA investigation of Chip Kelly's program at Oregon.) Shepard started only one game for the Tigers in 2012. At LSU's pro day this spring, he worked out at defensive back for NFL scouts.

When he went undrafted, then signed with the Eagles, Shepard told a Louisiana radio station he had taken himself out of the final rounds of the draft to sign with the Birds, an assertion that sparked an NFL investigation. In fact, you can't opt out of the late rounds of the draft; no team that wanted to draft you in, say, the seventh round would honor such a request.

Shepard, 6-1, 196, would like to put all of his misadventures behind him. One way to do so would be to impress coaches with seriousness and dedication.

"This is what we do, is catch footballs," Shepard said when asked about his extra work yesterday. "Catching footballs is pure concentration."

Shepard said his college career as "a great learning experience."

"I had an up-and-down career," he said. "Came in as a highly touted guy. Didn't live up to the hype, but it taught me a lot about myself, and it's taught me a lot about football."

Shepard said he has practiced mainly in the slot, the place Avant has excelled. He said he thinks that's a good fit for his skill set.

On Twitter: @LesBowen


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