Jameis Winston thrilled Russell Shepard is getting opportunity to shine

TAMPA, Fla. -- One person who wasn't surprised by the performance of Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Russell Shepard last Sunday was quarterback Jameis Winston.

“He’s probably our best all-around player on this team as far as the passion that he comes with every day to work, as far as the leadership that he gives us and just his heart,” Winston said of Shepard. “His overall heart is tremendous."

A special-teams captain who typically does a lot of the "dirty work" -- such as run-blocking on offense and serving as a gunner on special teams -- Shepard caught five of six targets for 77 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Bucs' 34-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers and figures to keep playing a bigger role in the Bucs' offense in the absence of Vincent Jackson.

"He’s really our best all-around guy," Winston said, pointing to his versatility. "He’s different. He can run down, sprint full-speed down there to cover a kick, then come out there and catch a touchdown. That’s different. Guys don’t do that. Guys will say, ‘I’m winded.' Guys will say, ‘give me one,’ and he’s not that guy."

Winston, who graduated from high school three years after Shepard, remembers watching YouTube videos of him when he was a high school quarterback. “'Shep’ was one of my favorite players. I used to watch one of his videos where he had his hat backwards, he was doing some footwork drills."

For Shepard, that versatility and "team-first" mentality has given him job security. He was both Rivals.com and Scout.com's No. 1-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation coming out of Houston's Cypress Ridge High School in 2009. After four years at LSU, he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. He was claimed off waivers by the Bucs that September and is in his second season as a special-teams captain.

"I take pride in doing the dirty work," said Shepard, who became a father for the first time this year and is known for his passionate locker-room speeches before games. "I take pride in doing the things that most receivers don't usually do, or have to do."

He recovered a muffed punt in the Bucs' 17-14 win over the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football. He has enjoyed getting more looks recently as a receiver because it affords him even more of an opportunity to impact the game.

"Any time I can come in, whether it's blocking a nine-technique on the line, or running a deep route to clear it out for Mike Evans, or if it's me myself being the primary target on a pass play, I'm willing to do it," Shepard said. "I'm the ultimate team guy. I love to win football games – it's kind of the biggest thing that drives my motivation.

"It's the kind of thing that got me on the field throughout college, being on a talented roster at that point in time at LSU, being able to do multiple things. Right now in my career, this is really helping me out. I'm being able to really develop from a receiving standpoint and take advantage of these opportunities."

Offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Todd Monken said Shepard will continue to split reps this week with Cecil Shorts III and Adam Humphries to fill the void left by Jackson. He's happy that one of his 'role players' who typically doesn't garner much attention is getting some recognition.

"He had a tremendous game for us and I’m happy for him. He’s worked awfully hard; he’s earned everything in this league," Monken said. "So for him to come up big with a number of plays, I’m happy for him -- what that meant to him, what it meant to our team."