Nathan Shepherd jumped off the defensive line Youth Pavel Zacha Jersey , got into the New York Jets‘ backfield and saw Sam Darnold standing just a few feet away.
Then, the third-round draft pick put on the brakes.
”Oh, I stayed away from him,” a smiling Shepherd said of Darnold on Saturday during rookie minicamp. ”No sir. You see the red (jersey) and you turn the other way.”
Quarterbacks are off-limits to contact in NFL practices, so would-be sack-happy defenders such as Shepherd need to tread lightly – especially when the No. 3 overall pick and future of the franchise is in the pocket.
But games are another story, of course, and the Jets will be counting on Shepherd and fellow rookie Folorunso Fatukasi to help make Sundays miserable for opposing offenses. New York went big in the draft – after taking Darnold in the first round – by adding heft to its defensive line.
Over 630 pounds worth.
Shepherd is a 6-foot-4, 315-pounder from Fort Hays State. Fatukasi, a sixth-rounder from UConn, is 6-3 and 318.
”Same size, different players,” coach Todd Bowles said last week after the draft.
Shepherd and Fatukasi could get plenty of opportunities to play as rookies. Bowles said both can play nose tackle and spell Leonard Williams at defensive end, and the Jets will have them slotted for certain roles depending on what defensive scheme they want to use.
They might also be able to help offset the loss of Muhammad Wilkerson, who was cut during the offseason and has since signed with Green Bay. The Jets still have Williams and Steve McLendon on their defensive line, as well as Mike Pennel, Xavier Cooper and Henry Anderson, who was acquired in a draft-day deal with Indianapolis.
”I think that whatever the opportunity the Jets have for me is going to be more than enough for me,” Shepherd said. ”If they need help in a certain area, then I would certainly feel honored that they would come and look to me for that.”
Boosting a pass rush that has struggled to consistently get to the quarterback the last few seasons might be one.
”We’ll see,” Bowles said of Shepherd. ”We expect him to have an impact as a defensive lineman, but sacks come differently for different people. As long as he does what he is supposed to do Cody Eakin Jersey , which we’re sure he will, we’ll get better and we’ll see where the pass rush is and if the sacks come.”
Shepherd is a study in patience and perseverance . The native of Ontario, Canada, redshirted his first season at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and then became a starter before leaving school for financial reasons.
Shepherd worked several side jobs for the next two years, dreaming of returning to football someday while fighting to keep motivated every day.
”Yeah, most mornings,” he said. ”You’re thinking, `OK, I’ve got to go to work and this check isn’t really doing anything to improve my life today, that I can see.’ So, that was difficult, but you’ve just got to keep the dream alive and know that you’re that much closer.”
Shepherd landed at Fort Hays State in Kansas in 2015, became a starter and was the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association defensive player of the year as a senior. He finished his three-year career at Fort Hays with 168 tackles, including 27 for loss, and 10 sacks.
Now, he’s in the NFL – something he’s still trying to grasp.
”I was fortunate enough to be able to keep my same number, so I’ll be No. 97,” he said. ”I have my jersey from college, so I think when I take that picture of my college jersey and my pro jersey, that moment will sink in for me.”
For Fatukasi, this marks sort of a homecoming. He grew up in the Far Rockaway section of Queens Kris Letang Jersey , New York, and ended up going to UConn. He went through three coaching changes while he was there but thrived despite the constant turnover.
He had 45 tackles, including 7 for losses, as a senior and was tied for second on the Huskies with four sacks. Fatukasi finished his college career with 168 tackles and 14 sacks in 48 games while playing several positions on UConn’s defensive line.
”Having three different head coaches – and if you include the interim head coach, it’s four – and having a various amount of defenses, I’ve kind of been all over,” Fatukasi said.
That versatility will be valuable for the Jets, who tend to move players around on the line to keep them fresh. Both Shepherd and Fatukasi could quickly find themselves part of that rotation, but they first need to get adjusted to playing in the NFL.
”I had to quickly get off the high of being drafted,” Fatukasi said, ”and realize there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Rookie receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton are the Denver Broncos‘ new safety valves, applying the pressure but also relieving the burden on veterans Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders .
”Those two guys, they came in like pros, they’re taking care of their business, they’re on time to everything, they’re making plays,” Thomas said Friday. ”So, they’re pushing us. And that’s good for us. We need it. We want to push each other and make each other better.”
While Sutton has made a splash at training camp so far with daily highlight-reel catches and Hamilton has drawn his share of applause, Thomas and Sanders are quietly having very good camps themselves.
Thomas’ stats have steadily declined every season since his peak in 2014, and his streak of five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons ended last year when he finished 51 yards shy.
Sanders dealt with injuries and his two TD catches were his fewest since 2012.
Part of the problem in 2017 was that the Broncos had nobody around them – a third receiver Youth Brandon Carlo Jersey , a tight end, a running back – who could really force teams to quit bracketing Thomas and Sanders.
That’s no longer the case .
In addition to Sutton and Hamilton, the Broncos added rookie running backs Royce Freeman, David Williams and Philip Lindsay (undrafted) along with another Big Ten tight end in Troy Fumagalli to go with Jake Butt, who missed his rookie season last year while recovering from knee surgery.
Sutton, Hamilton and Fumagalli are members of general manager John Elway’s already-celebrated draft class of 2018 that featured experience – all 10 players spent four years in school – and leadership – most were captains in college.
Safety Justin Simmons said he’s just like all the fans whooping and hollering at practice – he’s energized by and excited about the Broncos’ rookies.
”Oh, for sure. Especially Chubb,” Simmons said of first-round pick Bradley Chubb, whose ability to chase down quarterbacks ”makes my job 50 times easier.”
Sutton’s making his job harder.
”Oh yeah, Sutton’s been great. He’s been out here making plays,” Simmons said. ”He’s just another guy that’s just humble and hungry, coming in here ready to work.”
That’s been the theme of this year’s draft class, which also includes cornerback Isaac Yiadom, inside linebackers Keishan Bierria, Josey Jewell (who practiced Friday for the first time after pulling a hamstring in June) and guard Sam Jones.
Last season, several veterans took the 2017 draft class, which was filled with raw athleticism and projects, to task for their work ethic, complaining that too many of them came off as entitled.
This year’s class drew quick praise from the veterans.
”There’s no complaining,” defensive end Derek Wolfe said. ”That’s the one thing that you notice from an immature draft class, is that they complain a lot Youth Fabian Moreau Jersey , whine and cry a lot. There’s none of that coming from this group.”
”It’s a mature class,” coach Vance Joseph said. ”It’s been seven or eight guys that have shown they can help us win.”
Sutton’s doing it with spectacular plays every day, and Hamilton’s sprinkling in his share, too.
”I’ll tell you what, we’ve got some good rookies,” Sanders said. ”I was just over there with my family and Courtland just runs over to say, `Hey, I’m going to take your helmet.’ And that’s what we need.”
Players willing to pay their dues but eager to make their mark.
Also turning heads is Chubb, the fifth overall pick in the draft who reminds defensive tackle Domata Peko Sr. of superstar Von Miller .
”He’s quick, he’s strong and he can get to the passer. He’s disruptive and he’s willing to learn,” Peko said after getting his first glimpse of the 2018 class. ”He’s always talking to Von and asking, `Hey, what can I do?’ That’s good to see out of a rookie.”
Peko also singled out Sutton and Jewell as players he’s thrilled to play alongside.
”These guys are going to make a difference for us,” Peko said. ”They’re only going to help our team. I love our new guys.”
Notes: Simmons said the league’s new helmet rule was going to be the main topic when players meet with NFL officials visiting the Broncos to go over the new rule changes. … On the sixth day of training camp, QB Case Keenum was finally intercepted, by S Will Parks. ”He’s human,” Joseph said. … The Broncos signed WR Bryce Bobo, a rookie from Colorado, and designated WR Kenny Bell as waived/injured.
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