EAGAN, Minn. – Don't look for Shamar Stephen on the stat sheet; he's too busy in the trenches.
Since joining the Vikings as a seventh-round draft pick in 2014, the defensive tackle has started 35 of 67 games in five seasons with Minnesota. After four straight in Purple, he started 14 of 15 games for the Seahawks in 2018 before re-joining the Vikings last season.
The numbers behind Stephen's name on a box score match his unassuming and soft-spoken demeanor off the field. In 2019, he totaled a sack, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery over 15 starts.
Career sacks? Four. But for No. 93, numbers don't tell the whole story.
"People write [negative] stuff about Shamar Stephen, and I get it because everybody just looks at stats," Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson said. "But if you watch film and you ask Eric Kendricks if he had to pick anybody to go to the game with that he'd make sure that guy was there, I guarantee he'd tell you it's 93 because 93 is not going to let anybody get to the second level and block Eric."
So, we called up Kendricks.
The 2019 All-Pro linebacker wasted no time standing on a table for Stephen.
"First and foremost, I just think Shamar is completely underrated and really not appreciated as much as I appreciate him," Kendricks told Vikings.com. "I appreciate Shamar so much because his game isn't very flashy, you know what I mean? He knows what he needs to do; he's going to take on some double teams, he's going to hold his point of attack, and he's going to win his gap."
Kendricks emphasized Stephen's unselfish – and unwavering – performance week after week.
"It's so consistent to where people like me, or people who are behind him, they get to run to the ball or they get to make the play, and I feel like he's just not really appreciated because he just doesn't really make splash plays," he said. "But when you watch the film, you understand that he is the one doing the work, the majority of the heavy lifting."
Last season, Stephen did a majority of that heavy lifting at the 3-technique spot. But with the departure of nose tackle Linval Joseph to the Chargers in free agency, the Vikings have moved Stephen to nose.
"It feels good. I'm comfortable at both positions, 3 or nose," said Stephen, who has played both for Minnesota and played mostly at nose tackle in Seattle. "Honestly, I'll play whatever position you want me to play."
Willingness is one thing, but the ability to play at either spot is admirable in and of itself.
Kendricks said it's "not easy to do," but that Stephen's experience and knowledge of the defense help him to be versatile.
"D-linemen, they normally just listen to the call and then they play, but Shamar's a guy who likes knowing what's going on," Kendricks explained. "He likes knowing where the tight ends are, he likes knowing what kind of plays he can get out of [certain situations], and I think that's what kind of makes his game special."
"He tries to guess the plays almost like he was a linebacker. He likes to get set up; he likes to know what's going on," Kendricks continued. "Some d-linemen just like to get the call and stick their finger in the dirt and take off, but he wants to kind of know where the game is going, what teams like to do. He likes to anticipate things."
Kendricks isn't the only one to draw attention to Stephen's approach to the game.
Vikings Head Mike Zimmer called the 29-year-old a "very, very smart player"; the same adjective was used by Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer. Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo described Stephen as a "technician" who leads the position group by example.
Stephen doesn't just have the brains, though. He's got the brawn – and the burst – to go with it. He takes on double teams at the line of scrimmage, but the 6-foot-5, 309-pound tackle also shows off nimble footwork.
"Shamar is just so strong and so athletic," Kendricks said. "I remember one offseason, me and Shamar and a couple guys went to shoot some hoops, and that's when I really, truly realized how athletic Shamar was.
"When he has a basketball in his hand, he had a lot of finesse to him," Kendricks added. "He can shoot the ball, he can make moves and he can play defense. And that's when I realized how much of an athlete he truly is."
View photos of Vikings players from Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice at TCO Performance Center.
According to Patterson, the Vikings defensive tackles' "number one job" is to not let anyone touch Kendricks – and it's a responsibility Stephen takes seriously.
"They're doing what we coach them to do," Patterson said. "Some people take that 3-technique role, and that guy's a penetrating guy. He's trying to get in the backfield and get tackles for losses and is better on his pass rush because he's moving forward, but we don't ask our guy to do that. We ask our guy to keep Eric Kendricks free. We want to flatten out the line of scrimmage. 'Don't let any linemen leave the line of scrimmage, the inside guys, and let Eric [play] free.'
"So those guys are just going out there and executing what I coach them to do, and that's why that position is so important," Patterson added.
Stephen was asked during a recent session with media members if he takes pride in enabling Kendricks and Anthony Barr to make big plays. True to his nature, he avoided taking too much credit.
"For me it's just being able to do my job. If my job is to hold up a block or choke off a block or do my job, that's what I'm gonna do," Stephen said.
Stephen isn't bothered by "the star stuff" or the fact that he's flown under the radar on a roster featuring the likes of Everson Griffen, who signed with the Cowboys last week, or Danielle Hunter, who last season became the youngest player in NFL history to accrue 50 career sacks.
"I just care about playing football and helping my team win," he emphasized. "All the other stuff, all the media [talk], I disregard. Because the most important thing is the team, and that's all I care about."
Chances are, Stephen's stat line will remain pretty short while he delivers a tall order of dirty work up front.
Like the blue-collar work ethic Zimmer lauds in the Vikings locker room, Stephen's "highlight reel" is modest but meaningful – and his teammates couldn't ask for anything more.
"Our defense is always predicated on how well you can do your job to help the team, and the fact that he's been around for so long and that he's been trusted, it just shows you what kind of player he is," Kendricks said. "I can name so many times where Shamar's come up big for us, and he's just so consistent all the time.
"He's not going to be the flashy guy who creates huge tackles for loss and X-Y-Z, but you know what? He's gonna be there when you need him the most," Kendricks added. "He's going to be there when we're down, when we're up, and he's going to be consistent. He's going to do his job."