Monday, November 21, 2005

Sheppard's Recovery Key to Eagles Future

No surprises came out of Monday's press conference by Eagles coach Andy Reid. Lito Sheppard has a severe high ankle sprain and Donovan McNabb has a sports hernia that both need surgery. Neither will see the field again this season, although Reid, never says never.
Even though this hasn't been the most consistent season for Sheppard, he was playing a great game before being injured in the first defensive series of the third quarter.
Like McNabb, he has enjoyed good moment,s this season that have been overshadowed by some not so good ones.
The Eagles haven't gotten the same type of pass rush as they did a year ago, leaving the cornerbacks out on more of an island. Sheppard has had one-on-one coverage more and opposing offenses have benefited from it.
There are very few corners who can cover great receivers and blanket them consistently with one-on-one coverage.
Sheppard is no exception. Last season he made the Pro Bowl and this year, he hasn't approached his play of a year ago. That doesn't mean he's not a solid NFL player, it's just that he wasn't close to Pro Bowl quality.
What is ironic is that Sheppard was having arguably the his best game of the year, limiting Plaxico Burress to one reception for four yards. After that, Burress cleaned up and finished with six receptions for 113 yards and a 61-yard TD.
While people may have been complaining about some of Sheppard's coverages, most notably in two games against Dallas' Terry Glenn, this team has little depth in the secondary. It's likely that Sheppard's value will be demonstrated as much in his absence as it was when he was on the field.
If one goes down the line, Sheppard is just one of many Eagles who haven't played up to last year's standards.
It doesn't make him or the others bad players, it just doesn't make the Eagles a very good team.
At 24 and with four NFL seasons now behind him, Sheppard's recovery will be a key to the Eagles chances to re-emerge as a factor next season in the NFC.
A quality cover corner is hard to come by. Even though Sheldon Brown was burned by Burress for the TD on Sunday, he has been playing at a Pro Bowl level this season. If Sheppard comes back to form, then at least the Eagles will have a good start in their rebuilding process.