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New York Jets lineman Nathan Shepherd needs to finish season strong

Though the Jets’ focus remains on quarterback Sam Darnold, another rookie faces a critical stretch to finish the season.

Defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd, the Jets’ third-round pick, has started five games this year and played in all 12, but he was barely on the field last week against the Titans. He played a season-low 12 snaps following his worst game of the season, according to his coaches, Week 12 against the Patriots.

“First and foremost, I trust my coaches,” Shepherd said of his reduced role. “Whatever talks we have during the week and the preparation we have, it is in order to put the defense in the best situation to win. You take that and you move forward.”

Shepherd was drafted out of Division II Fort Hays State, so the leap to the NFL was a big one for the 25-year-old. He has played a lot, but has not made a huge impact. He has 13 tackles, no sacks and no tackles for a loss.

“I’m always going to want to be more involved and always want to do more than I’ve what I’ve done,” Shepherd said. “I think at the end of the season I’ll be able to sit down with my coaches and see the part I played and look where I can improve for next year.”

New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles
Todd BowlesBill Kostroun

Coach Todd Bowles explained why Shepherd’s playing time was reduced last week, but he said he also still believes in him.

“Goose [Henry Anderson] and Mike [Pennel] have been playing better,” Bowles said. “Obviously [they] have a little more experience, but I think Shep’s going to be a good player, but he’s had some things to learn. So we just lighten his load a little bit.”

Shepherd said he knows what he has to work on this offseason.

“I would say that continuing on in this rookie year and also preparing this offseason, I do want to continue to have a better understanding of my opponent and their scheme so I’m one step ahead of the game and it’s more like ‘I’ve seen this before’ as opposed to reacting,” he said. “It’s more like anticipating rather than reacting.”

The Jets had some puzzling play calls in the red zone last week. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was asked about one drive in the third quarter when they threw three times after two long Isaiah Crowell runs put them inside the 20. Bates said they were not all called passes.

“I’m not going to go into the plays because I don’t want to talk about scheme, but the RPO [run/pass option], when you call runs and the defensive structure forces us to throw it sometimes,” Bates said. “It looks like we’re throwing it every time. I thought the offensive line and the running backs ran the ball extremely hard and we want to continue to run it when we’re down there.”

The Jets signed DE Bronson Kaufusi off their practice squad Saturday. He takes Darron Lee’s roster spot.

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