Through the first two games of the regular season, New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard was the playmaker.
In Week 1 against the Denver Broncos, Shepard recorded 113 receiving yards and he tacked on another 94 yards vs. the Washington Football Team in Week 2. The sixth-year receiver looked in sync with Daniel Jones and emerged as a leader on the receiving corps.
So when he left the Giants’ game against the Falcons early with a hamstring injury, the offense lost a lot of its explosiveness. Shepard missed the past two weeks but told the media Wednesday that he should be ready to return to the field Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams. He was a full participants in Wednesday’s practice.
“You get out to a pretty good start and just want to help the team get wins and then not to be a part of the win in New Orleans, it’s one of the places I’ve never got to play,” Shepard said. “(I) really wanted to play there, and then Dallas is always a fun spot to play as well. It wasn’t any fun missing those two and not being out there with the guys. But, back this week and hopefully we can get a W.”
Shepard is one of many injured players on the Giants offense. In Week 3, Shepard and fellow receiver Darius Slayton both left the game early. Last week, Jones suffered a concussion, Saquon Barkley’s ankle ballooned to a scary size and Kenny Golladay hyperextended his knee.
For this reason, the Giants have had to adopt a ‘next-man-up’ mentality on offense.
“You want everybody on the field at the same time, but this is football,” Shepard said. “This is what happens, you have to make adjustments. That’s the mentality that you have to have every season. You never know what’s going to happen on Sundays, you never know what’s going to happen throughout the week. The next guy has to be ready. You have to be taking those mental reps when you’re watching somebody that’s ahead of you.”
From his vantage point on the sidelines the past two weeks though, Shepard has been able to observe the rapid growth of first-round pick Kadarius Toney. After four receptions in three games, Toney had six catches for 78 yards in Week 4 and he added another 189 yards this past week vs. the Cowboys.
“He’s electric with the ball,” Shepard said. “You get the ball in his hands and he’s going to make something special happen.
“He’s twitchy, man. I was calling him a jitter bug. It’s hard because I remember whenever he caught the ball when I was in the game and I saw him make a couple miss, and I’m sitting there and I’m like, I need to be blocking somebody.”
Toney’s passion for the game manifested itself in the wrong way though when he punched a Cowboys defender in the helmet last week and was promptly ejected from the game. Shepard understands this intensity though as he punched a player himself when the Giants had joint practices with the Cleveland Browns this offseason.
“He’s young,” Shepard said of Toney. “Stuff like that, emotions running high on the field, things like that can tend to happen, but you’ve got to kind of take a deep breath in those situations and think about the team and what could have happened.”
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey is a guy who likes to get under the skin of players on the field and could therefore pose a particular challenge for Toney.
“He’s probably got a target on him just because of what happened last week,” Shepard said. “He knows that and I mean everybody has talked to him. Jalen likes to talk – everybody knows that around the league. We’re not going to shy away from anything. We’re going to play our game and we’re going to do what we do, no matter who’s out there.”
Both Toney and Shepard may need to adjust this Sunday though as Jones has not yet been cleared to play and backup quarterback Mike Glennon could get the start under center.
“Mike will come in and do his thing if he has to,” Shepard said. “Just spend this week getting comfortable with him, and we threw a little bit in the offseason. You put the ball somewhere and catch it, then that’s all we need to do.
Shepard will play an important role in helping the 1-4 Giants get back on the winning track.
“You’ve just got to keep your head forward and keep pushing. We’ve got things that we have to correct and that’s the bottom line. Just fix it quickly, and we have to do that. That’s what this week was all about.”