Year: RS Freshman
Considering how thin the Hoos are at OLB, it is kind of amazing the depth they have at ILB. With All-ACC candidate Micah Kiser and 3 year starter Zach Bradshaw starting, that position is in good hands right now. In a 3-4 defense, the ILBs are the main guys tasked with stopping the run. Think Ray Lewis on the Baltimore Ravens in the later stages of his career. That is essentially going to be the role of Kiser this year.
Behind Kiser and Bradshaw are a trio of highly recruited underclassmen. Of the 3, only C.J. Stalker played last year, and he was the lowest rated of the trio. Jahvoni Simmons and Dominic Sheppard each had offers from the likes of Alabama and Ohio State, while Stalker was recruited by Notre Dame and West Virginia, but only had a few offers. Simmons missed much of the year with an injury, but Sheppard could have played if the Hoos had needed him to. Stalker had enrolled in January and spent the spring working with the team, which accelerate his learning process and led to him seeing the field as a true freshman.
At the outset of the season, Sheppard was one of the true freshmen deemed likely to play. But with the season Kiser had at MLB, there wasn’t a need for another ILB. Stalker’s playing time came at OLB and special teams.
Though he was rated just 3-stars by all the major recruiting services, his offer list was more impressive than most 3-star recruits. As mentioned, he had offers tom Alabama and Ohio State. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that he had 20+ offers. Sheppard was seem by most schools as an OLB, so it is interesting to see him move inside in the new scheme. But he’s a better fit as an ILB in Coach Mendenhall’s scheme. He’s a natural tackler who plays bigger than his 220 pounds and has long arms that let him avoid getting overwhelmed by bigger blockers.
Sheppard has good speed, but is not the quickest of LBs. He can struggle in space against quicker players and isn’t great in man pass coverage. But as a straight-line, downhill runner, Sheppard is very good. And he holds his own in zone coverage. When combined with his size, it makes him a very interesting prospect.
Here is Sheppard’s junior year highlight reel.
This video shows a big, fast LB who gets to the ball and makes plays. But it also shows a guy who doesn’t always make the correct read initially. He takes far too many false steps, though he had the ability to make up for that in high school. In college, those false steps will put him out of the play more often than not. Long term, this could cause him to not trust his reads, though it is the kind of thing that can be improved with coaching and film study, which is why so many schools made scholarship offers.
Sheppard may not be needed this year with Kiser and Bradshaw in the starting lineup. With Stalker’s playing experience, it seems likely that he’ll remain Bradshaw’s primary backup, but Sheppard and Simmons should be competing to backup Kiser. And one of that duo will likely be starting alongside Kiser in 2017.