Freshman Qaadir Sheppard impresses at defensive end

first_img Published on October 21, 2015 at 9:35 pm Contact Matt: [email protected] | @matt_schneidman It was always Qaadir Sheppard, Jake Pickard and Amir Ealey. Coaches often grouped the three freshman defensive ends when asked in preseason which defensive rookies stood out.Seven weeks into the schedule, though, it’s the Bronx, New York native coming off his first career interception — another indication of the separation he’s created from the group.“Q’s very talented,” nose tackle Kayton Samuels said of Sheppard. “I don’t want to put anyone out, but probably the most talented out of the three.”Against Virginia on Saturday, Sheppard corralled a Chris Slayton-tipped pass with 32 seconds left in the first half and returned it 3 yards to UVA’s 26-yard line. The very next play, Eric Dungey hurdled safety Quin Blanding before spinning in for a touchdown to give the Orange a 21-14 halftime lead.As SU (3-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) prepares for a Saturday date with No. 25 Pittsburgh (5-1, 3-0), a downhill running team, Sheppard may be called on more to stop freshman running back Qadree Ollison and help Syracuse snap a three-game losing streak.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“He’s shown to get better every week and that’s very encouraging,” defensive line coach Tim Daoust said. “A true freshman is figuring out more and more.”As a senior at Iona (New York) Prep, Sheppard recorded eight sacks and recovered five fumbles. On the other side of the ball, he caught 58 passes for 842 yards and 13 touchdowns as a tight end. Now lining up opposite the position he excelled at, Sheppard said he knows what kinds of moves tight ends make so he can accordingly counter with ones of his own.Before the season, he was listed at 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds. Now, has him at 247. What puts Sheppard above Pickard for instance, Samuels said, is a physical stature to go along with his acquired learning curve.“If Jake was physically there, he’d be playing just like Q,” Samuels said. “Q is physical and he learned.”The biggest learning curve Sheppard had to adapt to was the playbook. He spent hours every day studying blitzes that he could apply in practice. As a result, his level of understanding with the schemes is high enough to be thrust into defending the likes of LSU running back Leonard Fournette and South Florida tailback Marlon Mack.When Sheppard intercepted Virginia quarterback Matt Johns, he was greeted on the sideline by defensive end Donnie Simmons. The senior is the other D-end to pick off a pass this year, but his was returned for a touchdown against Wake Forest on Sept. 12.“I just jumped up and grabbed the ball and I just tried to score with it,” Sheppard said of his interception. “I told (Simmons) if I get another one, I’m going to take it to the house.”As Daoust put it, Sheppard’s preparation met an opportunity against the Cavaliers. And in a group of defensive ends frontloaded with experience, the freshman is beginning to crack through the floor.Said Daoust: “He’s getting himself out there more and more in critical situations.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more