INDIANAPOLIS – Mike Sheppard says he&39;s where he belongs.
Yet, while Sheppard very much wants to be with the Jaguars, what he says he feels most comfortable with beginning the latest phase of a 17-year NFL career is again coaching the position he loves to coach, the one with which he most identifies.
Sheppard, hired recently to coach the Jaguars&39; quarterbacks, said while he spent the last four seasons coaching the Cincinnati Bengals&39; wide receivers – and while he has coached receivers nearly as much as quarterbacks throughout his career – the reality is this:
At his core, he&39;s a quarterbacks guy. It&39;s just how it always has been.
"I would think so," Sheppard said during the NFL Scouting Combine, which concludes Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis. "Through the years, I&39;ve worked with them both the same amount – similar anyway – but quarterbacks, I&39;d say I probably enjoy it the most."
Sheppard, who entered the NFL as Cleveland&39;s tight ends coach in 1993, spent three seasons working with the Browns/Ravens receivers before joining Kevin Gilbride&39;s staff in San Diego as offensive coordinator in 1996-1997. He was quarterbacks coach in Seattle in 1999-2000 and the Bills&39; offensive coordinator in 2001.
He was the Saints&39; quarterbacks coach from 2002-2005, then spent a year as offensive coordinator there before joining the Bengals.
The Jaguars, he said, were a chance to again coach quarterbacks, an area of focus since not since playing high school quarterback or college wide receiver – "I wasn&39;t good enough to play quarterback in college," he said, laughing – but after hearing legendary coach Bill Walsh speak at a clinic.
"He said, 'You young guys, if you can learn one thing from me today, it&39;s this: become an expert at something,'" he said. "He said, &39;If you do that, there will always be a market for what you do.&39; I decided I was going to try to become an expert at the fundamentals of playing quarterback, the fundamentals of doing that.
"I wanted to become an expert at coaching quarterbacks."
Sheppard said his approach to coaching any position focuses on two areas – relationships and techniques.
"You have to create relationships with the players," Sheppard said. "When you work at that part, the other stuff is easier. I think for me that&39;s been an important part of the job. As you create that working relationship and that personal relationship with a guy, I think you understand how to teach better and how they&39;ll understand things better.
"You can kind of tailor your approach to each guy. Philosophically, it starts with the relationship first. I&39;ve found with NFL players that if you can convince them you&39;re going to help them, and if they&39;re going to improve under you, I think you&39;ve got them.
"Fortunately, over the years, I&39;ve been able to help some guys get better."
Whereas the quarterback position was once under-coached in the NFL, now nearly every team has a coach focused only on the league&39;s most important position. Still, Sheppard said a quarterback&39;s fundamentals remains critical – no matter the level or the resume of the player involved.
"To give you an idea, let&39;s take velocity," Sheppard said. "A guy&39;s velocity is a little bit like speed. You can improve it, but it&39;s hard to change. A guy&39;s either real fast or he isn&39;t, but I think you can improve anybody."
Sheppard said while he hasn&39;t yet studied Jaguars quarterback David Garrard in-depth on film, he has respect for former quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, and believes that having played for Shula, Garrard&39;s fundamentals and approach are almost certainly sound.
"Obviously, he had his best year last year," Sheppard said of Garrard. "Really, it&39;s building upon that foundation that other coaches have laid with David."
Sheppard said that rather than go through every game Garrard has played in the NFL, he will focus on last season, a season in which Garrard set a Jaguars record with 23 touchdowns passes.
"The more recent the better," Sheppard said. "Wherever he is right now are what his habits have evolved to. Unless he would tell me – and this is where the relationship comes in – 'I used to do that better here,' then maybe you go back and see what he&39;s talking about.
"But once you analyze a guy and you look at where he is, how he&39;s been taught, then you know how he can play, then you design your coaching to improve on that."
Still, Sheppard said he is confident he will find what he calls "emphasis points" with not only Garrard, but any Jaguars quarterback – "little things that we want to do with him that we haven&39;t done before."
"In his case, for example, he&39;s always been a good runner," Sheppard said. "Say I look on film and see he doesn&39;t do as well running to his left. Most guys do better running to their throwing side. So, we work on that – just doing better running to the left and making it a big play. I think you look at his overall performance and see what you can do to help his performance, because then it will help the team win and that&39;s what we&39;re here for."
In the case of Garrard, Sheppard said the process won&39;t be about rebuilding, or breaking down anything and re-teaching concepts. For a player of Garrard&39;s experience, he said that&39;s unnecessary.
"I don&39;t think so in this case, because to me, Mike&39;s done a great job with him," Sheppard said. "(Jaguars offensive coordinator) Dirk (Koetter) obviously has had a lot of success with quarterbacks in his career. The foundation is a good one. David has enjoyed success. I think it would be wrong to ignore how he&39;s doing it and how he&39;s getting it done.
"I think the challenge is to say, maybe, 'How I can take it up a level? How can I take the next step?' So that&39;s the biggest change, to look back, see if there&39;s a way to make a little difference in performance.
"If there is, then we&39;ll work at it and then we&39;re all better for it."