A single photo can sum up
Team photographers captured the scene and Sheffield now owns a professionally mounted picture that reminds him of his teammates’ support. He carried that picture with him as he left the Chiefs Training Facility last week to begin the 2011 offseason.
When Sheffield first went down, things looked bleak. Members of the Chiefs medical staff carefully worked with Sheffield for nearly 15 minutes on the Arrowhead turf. From the view of fans, and television cameras, the rookie had no movement. His neck injury looked severe.
Arrowhead went silent. Eventually, Sheffield would be immobilized and carted off the field to cautious applause.
“It was scary the beginning, because it was my first major (head) injury,” Sheffield, who was conscious at the time, remembered.
Sheffield was taken to a local hospital and held overnight for testing. Calls and text messages flooded the rookie. Included among the many on-site visitors were head coach Todd Haley and a number of teammates.
There’s no doubt that Sheffield envisioned his first NFL season unfolding differently, but the outpouring of support that Sheffield received from his new football family made his rookie season unforgettable in a way he never imagined.
“It means a lot to have people reach out to you and pick you up when you’re down; really, when you’re at your lowest point,” said Sheffield. “It really meant a lot. I had people supporting me and keeping me up.”
As time passed, Sheffield regained full use of his extremities. Doctors told him that the recovery time would vary and Sheffield was, not surprisingly, placed on injured reserve. His rookie season had ended before it even began.
In a year of rookies making an immediate impact, Sheffield was the only member of Kansas City’s 2010 Draft Class not to appear in a regular season game. His playing prospects for 2011, however, look much brighter.
Sheffield said that team doctors granted him a clean bill of health last month.
“I’m at 100%,” Sheffield said. “Now it’s just about getting back into football shape.”
Before suffering the season-ending head injury, Sheffield seemed destined to have seen the field in some capacity. His setback halted one of the better training camp stories of individual progress.
In the beginning stages of converting from a 4-3 collegiate defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker at the NFL level, Sheffield was beginning to show up on the training camp radar.
He was stringing impressive practices together and turned in a standout showing during the club’s first intra-squad scrimmage under the lights of Missouri Western’s Spratt Stadium. In preseason games, Sheffield and was seeing extended looks in defensive sub-packages while also handling various special teams assignments.
“I feel like I was learning the system more, being converted from a defensive lineman,” said Sheffield “My reactions as a linebacker, like being able to drop into coverage, was really coming along. I really was just improving every day.”
Losing a complete season is a developmental setback for any 22-year old, much less a non-BCS conference player going through a position change. However, the aftermath of an injury such as Sheffield’s could have been far greater than a missed season.
For that reason, Sheffield keeps the picture of what transpired on August 27th close by.
After a season of unprecedented turnaround, many in the Chiefs organization are excited about what 2011 has to offer. Sheffield is no exception. When on-field preparations for 2011 begin, Sheffield expects to be back on the field with his teammates.
While the majority of players left Kansas City last week to enjoy time away from football, Sheffield is counting down the days until OTAs begin.
“I’ve been thinking about getting back out there all season in every game that I went to,” said Sheffield. “I just get excited thinking about getting out there. My time will come. It’s just about being patient, but I’m definitely ready for next season.”
Until then, Sheffield will use a picture as offseason motivation.