Lito Sheppard wants nothing more than to prove he belongs. After sustaining an injured quad early in his rookie campaign, he never caught up to fellow rookie corner Sheldon Brown, and usually was found in street clothes when the Eagles took the field. Lito was one of the most dynamic players in his three years of college at Florida, which was why the Eagles took him in the first round two in 2002, despite many who questioned the selection.
Now is the time for him to prove he belongs. Sheppard, only 22 years of age, has loads of potential and some even compare him to Pro-Bowler Antoine Winfield of the Bills. Andy Reid is giving Sheppard all of his confidence. If Lito performs up to expectations in Training Camp, he will likely be the Nickel Corner for one of, if not the best secondary in the league.
However, the depth at corner doesn’t stop there. Sheldon Brown, drafted in the second round two years ago, will come into training camp neck and neck with Sheppard, and Brown may have a slight advantage. While Lito was rehabbing last year, Brown spent that time learning Jim Johnson’s complicated schemes, and when he got on the field in the fourth cornerback role, he made the most of it. He had two interceptions and many bone-jarring hits, especially on special teams, as he impressed the coaching staff and players around the league. If he can build on the confidence he obtained last year, the Eagles very well could have four starting-quality cornerbacks.
To round out the youngsters of the secondary is Michael Lewis out of Colorado. Even though last year was his rookie season, not many people could tell. As he flew all over the field when given time to play, making big hit after big hit. Teamed with All-World Brian Dawkins at the free-safety position, these two could form the most physical and ball-hawking Eagles safety tandem ever.
Now to the defensive line, where change is abroad. Gone is Hugh Douglas, the Eagle’s leading pass-rusher since 1999, and in are Jerome McDougle and Jamaal Green, both rookies from Miami. Along with third year man Derrick Burgess, a promising pass-rusher who missed all of last season with ankle injuries. Despite what many think, the Eagles pass rush has a chance to be better this year, even without Douglas, who left for Jacksonville. Along with third down specialist N.D. Kalu, the Eagles pass rush could come in waves, subbing young players with high motors for the entire game. McDougle is the most promising, being the current first round pick, and has been compared to, ironically, Hugh Douglas, as a great pass-rusher but also solid against the run. Whomever starts at the right end position can guarantee one thing, which is that he will have three back-ups almost as good as him ready to jump in. This is good for the Eagles because competition always brings out the best in every one, and you can expect to see a faster, quicker, younger, and more physical Eagles defense this fall, and just maybe, this winter.