When JaCorey Shepherd heard that Brandon Boykin was traded to the Steelers on Saturday night, the rookie cornerback texted the player who was going to teach him the nickel position during training camp.
Shepherd told Boykin that everything happens for a reason, and that the trade would give Boykin the opportunity to play outside corner and Shepherd a chance at playing time as a rookie. He also told the fourth-year pro that if he ever has a question that an Eagles teammate can't answer for him, that he's going to reach out.
"He said much love," Shepherd said after the first day of training camp Sunday. "And he told me this is my opportunity. It's up for me to lose."
In the first day of his first NFL training camp, Shepherd took first-team reps at nickel and frequently lined up across from Jordan Matthews in the slot. The sixth-round draft pick out of Kansas had never played nickel before the Eagles' organized team activities in June, but he thinks he's adjusting well to a spot that requires cornerbacks to think more in space and cover a variety of receivers.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly didn't definitively say whom he expects to replace Boykin, and added that the Eagles secondary depth factored into the trade. He did, however, express excitement at what he's seen from Shepherd this summer.
"He . . . has a real knack being around the ball all the time," Kelly said before practice. "Showed up a lot when you turn the tape on. I think we were surprised he was still around in the sixth [round]. We kind of held our breath."
Shepherd said that nothing during the defensive backs meeting Sunday morning indicated that he, or any other player, is locked in as the first-team nickel.
Shepherd said that knowing whether help is coming from a linebacker, safety or corner, and not having the sideline to work, is the challenge at nickel. Matthews said that Shepherd did well and was physical when they matched up, but that it was hard to judge too much with the team still practicing without pads.
"He's a real talent. He's real smooth and a natural corner that can play both spots," said E.J. Biggers, a seventh-year pro entering his first season with the Eagles. "As an older guy, you love to see a younger guy like him."
The 28-year-old Biggers is another player who could compete for snaps at nickel, and he believes the Eagles signed him this offseason because of his versatility. Nolan Carroll has experience at nickel, but Kelly indicated he is staying at corner for now. It all puts Shepherd in the fast lane, and that's not something he's worried about.
"I just need to go out there and show everybody else that what Coach is saying and what I believe is the real deal," Shepherd said. "That's what it is."