Sterling Shepard at Giants training camp on Aug. 14.

Sterling Shepard at Giants training camp on Aug. 14. Credit: Swensen

Sterling Shepard lined up to the right of the formation, awaited the snap count and then burst upfield as soon as Daniel Jones called for the ball. The Giants’ receiver ran straight ahead for about 15 yards, cut sharply to his right, and then came back to make the catch. It was a veritable clinic on how to run a route, making every step count, every move matter and every technique nearly perfect.

It’s something the 27-year-old Shepard has been doing the last four seasons, providing a reliable target for Eli Manning and now Daniel Jones and developing into one of the team’s most dependable players. Shepard may not be a true No. 1 receiver in the mold of Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin or even Odell Beckham Jr., but he is the kind of player you always want on your team. The kind of player first-year coach Joe Judge can depend upon, especially in the kind of rebuilding circumstances in which the Giants now find themselves.

Shepard is an unlikely survivor, considering that Beckham was the one who figured to carry the receiving game for years to come. But the Giants chose Shepard’s reliability and sure hands over Beckham’s talent and me-first dynamic. Both players received contract extensions from the Giants, but it was Beckham who was off-loaded in a trade last year with the Browns.

It appears Shepard is here to stay, which is a good thing for a coach like Judge, who needs all the help he can get, especially from the players who have been around long enough to know what’s needed. Yes, Jones-to-Shepard feels like a phrase that will be used a lot this season and in the years ahead.

There is a joie de vivre about Shepard that resonates in the locker room and in the huddle, a love of football that defines what he has been about with the Giants. No matter the score, no matter the record, this is a player who tries as hard as he can and celebrates the victories, no matter how small they might be.

“I just love the game of football, always have,” Shepard said in a recent interview. “I mean, we’re playing a kid’s game, so you have to be grateful for that. You have to be a professional, but you always are part of a sport where you can have a lot of fun and be around a great group of guys. I love it.”

Shepard was one of a handful of players to train with Jones during the offseason, time well spent for the veteran receiver.

“We were just trying to get down some of the material,” he said. “[The coaching staff] has added some of the little nuances, different route techniques . . . just fine-tuning those things. We’re really just focused on getting these plays down and getting down what the coaches like and getting on the same page with each other.”

It is a unique and unconventional receiver combination the Giants now have, with Shepard and fellow veteran Golden Tate offering the experience and excellent route-running ability, combined with second-year receiver Darius Slayton, who showed plenty of promise last year with field-stretching speed. Slayton led the Giants with eight receiving touchdowns.

“I think we’re all capable of making plays,” Shepard said. “What it all boils down to is can you trust the guy to make a play. I think we have three guys that are able to do that.”

It’s essentially a receiver-by-committee approach, one that Judge will have to rely on, at least for the initial part of his run with the Giants and until they can find a true No. 1 receiver. There’s no question it’s easier to run an offense with a player that demands double coverage on most plays, but Shepard and Co. can certainly make do for now. Especially with Jones seemingly ready to take another significant step forward.

“You’re going to make strides your second season,” Shepard said of Jones. “That just comes with the game. He has the speed down and everything. He’s going to continue to progress in the right direction. He’s been doing a good job. He’s been working his tail off, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Same with Shepard.


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