After being released by the New York Jets in March, veteran cornerback Lito Sheppard wanted to find a situation where he could potentially start for a team. He thinks he might have discovered it in Minnesota.
Sheppard, who signed a one-year, $2 million contract on Wednesday, told reporters on a conference call today that he is aware of the fact that starting right corner Cedric Griffin is coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL and it sounds like he expects to win that job to start the season. (It's uncertain at this point when Griffin will be ready to return.)
"This is an excellent opportunity," Sheppard said from Florida. "As I was going through the whole process I really didn't know how it was going to end up, but as Minnesota was showing some interest I was like, 'Wow, this could really be a great opportunity.' I know what type of team they already have made up and I just felt like I could come in and help out that much more. This is a great team starting from the coach down and I'm just excited to have this opportunity."
Sheppard, 29, who spent his first seven seasons with Philadelphia before playing for the Jets last season, was familiar with Vikings coach Brad Childress and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier from their time together with the Eagles. Sheppard said Childress "does a great job of getting his point over and relating to the players."
But more than anything this was about a chance for Sheppard to see regular time on Sundays. He visited with the Lions last week and said every NFC North team expressed interest in him. Keep in mind, starting left corner Antoine Winfield also is coming back from a broken foot.
Sheppard said there was "very little" discussion about his role but it's clear he did his home work. "I know the situation in the secondary, Griffin coming off the ACL and Winfield [coming off the foot injury]," Sheppard said. "I'm just coming in and competing and I really do think I have a chance to start and that's what I'm shooting for. ... I definitely wanted to go in and start and given this situation, the predicament, I definitely have the opportunity. So it's really up to me, what I show them."
The Tampa-2 style defense the Vikings run is far more similar to what Sheppard ran in Philadelphia than the system he worked in last year in New York. Sheppard was a Pro Bowl selection in 2004 and 2006 with the Eagles but last season battled injuries and played in 11 regular-season games.
Asked how he compares as a player to his Pro Bowl seasons in 2004 and 2006, Sheppard said: "I think I'm smarter with the same athletic ability. My past three years have just been a tough road as far as off-the-field situations and I think with this situation, this predicament I can put all that behind me and we can move forward."
Interestingly, Sheppard said he has never played inside in the nickel but said he can play all over the field.
By the way, Sheppard will wear No. 29 with the Vikings. He had worn No. 26 with the Eagles and Jets but Antoine Winfield has that number in Minnesota. Running back Chester Taylor, who signed with Chicago as a free agent, had worn 29 for the Vikings.