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Out of the Shadows

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In July, Jabaal Sheard’s future with the Pitt football team was unclear. Charged with assault and suspended indefinitely from the team after an incident in the South Side, it was uncertain when--or whether--Sheard would team up with Greg Romeus to form one of the best defensive end duos in the country.

But a few weeks later, Sheard pled guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, allowing him to return to the field and put the altercation behind him. His reinstatement grew in importance after Pitt’s loss to Utah, when Romeus underwent surgery for a herniated disc in his lower back.

Suddenly Sheard, often an afterthought in raves about Romeus’s play, was thrust into the spotlight.

At 6-4 and 240 pounds, Sheard doesn’t stand in the shadow of many. But it was Romeus who was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year last season. And while Romeus was a unanimous first team All-Big East selection and an All-American, Sheard was over-looked.

Now, the focus of opponents’ offensive lines has turned toward Sheard and he said he’s ready for the challenge.

“I’ll definitely get more attention [from offensive lines,]” Sheard said. “Last year, coming into this year, me and Greg talked about how there would be attention on me and him both. And I guess he’s out, so there will be a lot more attention on me.”

Yet through Pitt's non-conference schedule, Sheard was 13th in the country with 5 sacks.

However, Sheard was quick to point out that the play of Brandon Lindsey against New Hampshire should keep offenses from focusing on just him for too long. Starting in Romeus’s place, Lindsey finished with two sacks in his first career start.

Joe Conlin, New Hamshire offensive line coach and former Pitt defensive tackle, got a personal look at Sheard when Pitt defeated the Wildcats 38-16 on Sept. 11.

Conlin said it’s up for debate who is the better player between Romeus and Sheard.

“It’s kind of a flip of the coin between who is the better player between the two,” Conlin said. “Although Romeus gets a lot of the national attention, there’s not a huge drop-off if you compare their games.”

Sheard is more of a workhorse, Conlin said, “the grittier of the two,” while Romeus is smooth and does a good job running the edge. Last season, Sheard finished with 42 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, and a team-high 11 quarterback hurries.

Conlin said that Sheard brings size, strength, and athleticism to the field that wears on offensive tackles: he plays every snap, and he doesn’t take many plays off.

“You might feel good about stopping him in the first quarter, but the thing about Sheard is he’ll gradually wear an offense down and that can cause problems in crunch time,” Conlin added.

Conlin made a point to comment on Lindsey, as well, saying that he didn’t notice much of a difference between Lindsey and Romeus.

“The thing that might change is teams might not see the two-headed monster out on the edge between Romeus and Sheard,” Conlin said. “They may run away from Sheard a little more often, but…Sheard is still going to make himself heard.”

Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said that although the Panthers might be able to approach replacing Romeus’s numbers through a combination of Lindsey and freshman T.J. Clemmings, they can’t replace his leadership.

Because of that, Sheard said he wants to try to step up as a leader in Romeus’s absence.

“I felt like I needed to step up as a senior and just play hard, just play all I can and step up as a leader and do what I can for the team,” he said.

However, stepping up as a vocal leader isn’t something that comes naturally, Sheard said.

“I’m learning to speak up more,” he said. “I’m just encouraging my teammates. I know they want what I want and that’s a Big East Championship.”

Gattuso said that even if vocal leadership doesn’t come naturally to Sheard, the game of football always seemed to.

“When he played as a freshman, he was very instinctive and understood the game very well,” Gattuso said. “[He was] just raw technically, but [showed] good play.”

Sheard is a great athlete for a player his size, Conlin added, and Sheard’s pure athleticism should make him successful on the next level, allowing him to pass rush and at the same time, stand up against the run in a 4-3 defense and against offensive tackles.

“I was watching him in pre-game and he was running around on the field, kind of throwing the football and catching,” Conlin said. “He’s just a tremendous athlete. He can be an everyday player in the NFL. He’s a natural playmaker.”

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