Jabaal Sheard aiming for new heights with Patriots

Jabaal Sheard aiming for new heights with Patriots

By:Adam Kurkjian- The Boston Herald

New England Patriots defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard before an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
New England Patriots defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard before an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

FOXBORO — Jabaal Sheard didn’t always like the coaching style of Greg Gattuso, his former defensive line coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

“‘Coach, you don’t have to coach me as hard as you used to,’ ” Gattuso said, recalling Sheard’s words. “Especially his second, third year, he didn’t like that I coached him hard all the time. And I used to say, ‘Jabaal, when you get good, I promise, I won’t say a word to you.’ ”

Sheard believed at the time he could almost coach himself.

“I kind of just like to watch film by myself, blast some music and go into a different zone,” Sheard said.

His music of choice became Rick Ross, a South Florida-based rapper with a deep registered voice.

“That boss voice,” said Sheard, who hails from Hollywood, Fla. “It’s humbling sometimes because a lot of times I can relate to it.”

But his first time on an airplane? Humbling? No. Terrifying? That’s more like it.

“My first time flying was to Pittsburgh and it was the scariest flight ever and we’re coming down and the plane’s shaking,” Sheard said. “We’re going through a thunderstorm. I was like, ‘I don’t ever want to fly again. I’m over flying.’ I told myself I was going to Miami. ‘I’m going to Miami.’ ”

On National Signing Day, most faxed letters of commitment arrive around 8 in the morning.

When noontime passed on signing day in February of 2007, the hours ticked by and the pressure from the rest of the staff began to build on then-Pitt assistant Charlie Partridge, the recruiter taking the lead on Sheard, when no fax arrived from the defensive stud.

“We were a little panicked,” said Gattuso, now a coach at Albany, “because (Sheard) was a good player. . . . It was like 3 o’clock in the afternoon and we were going crazy. I don’t really know what happened.”

The reason Sheard waited that long to send his commitment is he was still wavering. Can’t fault the kid for not wanting to fly back to Pittsburgh in the winter, can you?

“I got a little bit better (at flying over the years),” Sheard said. “I have my headphones and get a little music and there’s so many things to distract you. But back in the day when they said you have to take off your headphones, no music, I couldn’t do it. I’d be there shaking and just focused on the plane and focused on your music, your movie, whatever else.”

In the end, Sheard decided the Pitt coaching staff was too good to turn down, so he committed.

A take-charge guy

While at Pitt, playing under then-head coach Dave Wannstedt, Sheard was on a dominant defensive line that included future NFL players Greg Romeus and Nick Williams.

Not only did they share a wealth of talent, but a camaraderie, a natural chemistry.

“It was one of the most entertaining group of kids I’ve ever been around,” Gattuso said. “The funniest thing I can remember about it was LeSean McCoy was our running back and in an inside-run period, Shady would say something and immediately, those guys, it would be on. They would rib him hard and taking it, just killing Shady.”

“Oh, yeah, man. Camp days,” Sheard said. “Competing. Everybody’s competing, everybody’s raw. Everybody’s out there. You’re trying to get each other better.”

But when the competing stopped, the studying resumed for Sheard. Headphones on. Just him and the film.

“I can’t even overstate how many times I’ve walked out of my office and he’s sitting there at 9, 10 o’clock at night,” Gattuso said.

“Our conference rooms and offices were in the same room basically. I had many, many late nights in my offices and until I was done and I came out and he was sitting there by himself watching tape. No one knew he was doing it, he wasn’t telling anyone he was doing it. It was just the way he worked.”

“His senior year, I don’t know that I had to say a word to him. Literally. He just grew up into that kind of kid and player.”

Help wanted at end

Over the past few years, when the Patriots started showing more 4-3 looks, the defensive ends have shown flashes of production, but at times, late in games, it dropped off with a lack of depth as the wear began to show on Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.

Enter Sheard.

After four years with the Cleveland Browns, the Floridian had become used to the cold weather. The change of scenery wasn’t as big of a deal this time for a 26-year-old NFL veteran as it was the 17-year-old prospect who had never experienced flying into torrential weather.

On March 12, two days after his birthday, he signed with the Pats on a two-year, $11 million deal with a $5.5 million signing bonus.

It helped that the Patriots had hired Mike Lombardi as a personnel assistant. As the former general manager of the Browns, Lombardi knew what Sheard brought to the table.

“My agent (Drew Rosenhaus) had a good relationship with (Lombardi), obviously,” said Sheard who was drafted 37th overall by the Browns in 2011.

As for the study sessions, headphones on, critiquing his every move?

“That was one of their checkmarks,” Partridge said of the Patriots’ interest in signing Sheard.

Through two games, Sheard, Ninkovich and Jones comprise a group of ends that have shown an uptick in production. Through just two games, they’ve combined for five sacks, five quarterback hits, and five penalties drawn.

“We’re all cool,” Sheard said with a shrug of the chemistry. “A lot of great leaders around here, man. Everybody comes to work and gets the job done. That’s what we’re here for.”

Same goes for the airplane rides.