We have spilled digital ink on rookie linemen T.J. Clemmings and Tyrus Thompson, who at different points in the spring lined up with the first-team offense. We have not written much about fellow rookie Austin Shepherd beyond this story on the great things he is trying to do away from football.
So who exactly is Shepherd and where does he fit into the mix?
Shepherd, a seventh-round pick, started 27 games at right tackle for the Alabama Crimson Tide, helped open lanes for backs such as Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon and was part of a pair of national championship teams.
“He’s a guy that kind of knows how to play,” coach Mike Zimmer said, and he meant that in a positive kind of way. “So I think he’s got a chance. I just don’t know where it’s going to end up being. We’ve got him playing tackle now, but he may end up moving in to guard.”
Shepherd laughed when asked why he thinks he is a polished prospect.
“Coach [Nick] Saban. Pretty much Coach Saban and all his coaches,” he said. “He pretty much runs [Alabama] like an NFL program, everything from structure to discipline and anything you can think of. He’s just that kind of guy. Everything that he’s taught me has gotten me to this point.”
So far in training camp, Shepherd has been getting reps with both the second-stringers and the third-team offense as the Vikings try to figure out where he and also Clemmings and Thompson best fit along the line. For now, Shepherd is not in the mix at the open competition at right guard.
It has been a while since he regularly played guard. He practiced there a little bit at Alabama, but his only extensive experience was during two years in high school. That being said, he’s game for playing guard if asked.
“I’m honestly willing to play anything to make the team,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd appears to be on the bubble now and can play his way onto the team with a solid preseason. If not, he could be a practice squad candidate.
“I feel everything has been going good,” Shepherd, a 23-year-old Alabama native, said. “Just keep getting acclimated and learning the offense like I have been and everything will work out.”