By GEORGE BREMER
Kelvin Sheppard’s future begins Sunday with one more glimpse of his past.
The third-year inside linebacker will make his Indianapolis Colts debut against the Buffalo Bills at 1:30 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium.
A third-round pick out of LSU in 2011, Sheppard started 24 games in two seasons with the Bills. In April, he was dealt to Indy in exchange for former first-round pick Jerry Hughes.
Hughes made just seven starts in three seasons with the Colts, recording four of his five career sacks and six starts in 2012. He told Buffalo media last week he feels as though he’s only played one year of professional football after sitting behind Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney for much of his first two seasons.
The former TCU star is listed at No. 2 on the Bills’ depth chart behind all-pro defensive end Mario Williams, and he figures to see a lot of playing time against his former teammates.
So does Sheppard, who is competing for a starting spot at inside linebacker and could see considerable minutes with both Jerrell Freeman and Pat Angerer expected to sit out of the opener.
Unlike Hughes, however, Sheppard appears to bear few scars after changing NFL franchises for the first time. He’s looking forward to seeing friends and former teammates from Buffalo, and he’s smiling at the irony of debuting for his new team against his old team.
“It’s very interesting,” he said. “It’s crazy how that all went down and
how that happened.”
But he doesn’t have much time to reflect.
Freeman will start at one inside linebacker position when he’s cleared from a shoulder injury, but the spot opposite him is very much up for grabs.
With 36 starts in three seasons for Indianapolis, Kavell Conner likely has the inside track. But Sheppard has been manning the spot with the first team in nickel packages, and the two defenders have shared snaps throughout training camp.
“There’s a good rotation going on right now with myself and Kavell,” Sheppard said. “Obviously, Angerer’s not in the rotation due to injury right now, and I’m sure when he comes back he’ll get in that rotation as well. So, yeah, definitely we’re competing each day.”
Angerer was listed as the starter on the first unofficial depth chart released Tuesday. But he hasn’t practiced with the team this year as he recovers from a foot injury.
With Freeman nursing a shoulder injury of his own, Conner and Sheppard likely will start in the middle together against the Bills.
That should give each player an opportunity to impress defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald. But Sheppard said he doesn’t need any extra motivation to get ready to play.
Even in the preseason.
“That moment that you think you have something, especially in this league, in this profession that we’re doing, there’s always somebody in your rearview mirror,” Sheppard said. “And our linebackers coach said the moment you see somebody in that rearview mirror it’s too late ‘cause it’s more than likely they’re about to pass you.”
Sheppard doesn’t plan on being left behind.
He said he loves the physicality of Indianapolis’ hybrid 3-4 scheme, and he’s quickly fit into his new surroundings.
As he was being interviewed after a recent walkthrough at Anderson University, offensive guard Donald Thomas — another newcomer to Indy this year — playfully recorded a few answers on his smart phone.
Thomas continued circling closer and closer to Sheppard until the phone was directly in the linebacker’s face. The defender laughed and brushed the phone aside, and Thomas retreated to the safety of the locker room.
“It’s a family here,” Sheppard said. “I mean, it takes me back to my LSU days. You walk in that locker room, it’s not like you’re going to work. It’s like you’re going home to your family.”