PHILADELPHIA (AP) -A healthy Lito Sheppard is a playmaking cornerback with the ability to shut down top receivers and make gamebreaking interceptions.
Sheppard is injury-free heading into the Philadelphia Eagles' season opener against St. Louis, so why isn't he starting?
``That's a good question,'' Sheppard said Monday. ``You should ask that right now. Given the reasons supposedly about my injuries and not being able to stay on the field, with that not being an issue, what is the issue?''
Sheppard, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, lost his starting spot at left cornerback when the Eagles signed All-Pro Asante Samuel to a $57.14 million, six-year contract on the first day of the NFL free agency in March.
The move appeared to pave the way for a trade. Sheppard had made it known he wanted a new contract, but the Eagles weren't interested in redoing his current deal. Sheppard is signed through 2011 and received an $8.7 million bonus when he got a five-year extension of his rookie contract in 2004.
The Eagles didn't like any of the offers for Sheppard, so they decided to keep him, creating a logjam in the secondary. Coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson maintained throughout the summer that Samuel, Sheppard and Sheldon Brown would rotate. At one point, Sheppard and Brown were listed as co-starters on the depth chart. But Brown got the nod over Sheppard in the preseason.
``Me not starting, that's the biggest propaganda,'' Sheppard said.
Sheppard and Brown entered the league together in 2002. Sheppard was a first-round pick and Brown was chosen in the second round. They replaced veteran cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor following the 2003 season, and Sheppard has enjoyed more success. He was an All-Pro in '04, helping the Eagles reach the Super Bowl.
The 27-year-old Sheppard has a knack for making big plays. He has returned three of his 17 career interceptions for touchdowns and is the only player in league history with two such returns of more than 100 yards.
But Sheppard has also had trouble staying on the field. He missed six games in 2005 with a badly sprained ankle that required surgery, sat out three games in 2006 with another ankle injury, and didn't play in a playoff loss to New Orleans that season after hurting his elbow. Sheppard was sidelined four games last year after injuring his knee in the opener, and also sat out the season finale.
So far, Sheppard hasn't had any injury problems this year.
``I feel fine, I feel great, I feel healthy, I feel ready to play this season,'' he said. ``My role is yet to be determined.''
Sheppard won't let decreased playing time or unhappiness with the front office affect his performance.
``When I'm out on the field, I'm playing for me,'' he said. ``Anything that happens from that point, it's on me. I just have to make sure I can get out there.''
It doesn't appear Sheppard will find his way on the field on the offensive side. There was talk the Eagles would use the speedy Sheppard at wide receiver, but that plan never developed.
``I have to solidify my corner position before I think about anything else, so that's a long shot,'' Sheppard said.

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