Eli Apple and Olivier Vernon delivered a one-two punch Friday, though not in the way the Giants would have hoped.
The Giants will be without their starting cornerback Sunday as they try to contain Drew Brees and the Saints’ explosive offense — a move that initially seemed to surprise Apple as much as anyone. As for Vernon (foot), the linebacker practiced Wednesday and Thursday, only to be held back Friday and ruled out for Sunday. Coach Pat Shurmur insisted that Vernon, who has yet to make his season debut, did not experience a setback. Vernon declined to comment via a Giants spokesman.
There is one bright side for the defense, and that’s the possible return of Damon Harrison (knee), who wasn’t on the injury report. Their No. 3 wide receiver, Cody Latimer, also is out, opening the door for Russell Shepard, who’ll be playing with Odell Beckham Jr. for the first time since they were LSU teammates. Tight end Evan Engram (knee) and running back Jonathan Stewart (foot) also are out.
“I think the guys that we had last week did a good job against a good offense, so we’ll just go out and do the same thing,” Shurmur said, adding that Vernon has “made great progress this week and he’s close. He’s just not quite ready.”
It’s still no small challenge to be without those two cogs against an offense coming off its best performance of the year — 534 total yards against the Falcons — and a quarterback in Brees who has completed 80.6 percent of his passes, best in the league.
Apple, recovering from a groin injury, said he had a less vigorous practice Friday — probably partially because the Giants had a fast practice with an eye toward the Saints — but said he understands the decision.
“I feel fine,” Apple said. “I’m definitely disappointed, but I know it’s the best thing right now for me and the team and just go about it and be the best teammate I can be on game day . . . The decision was just made and I’m going with it. I’m going to take [the] necessary precautions.
“I gotta get faster, gotta get back to my normal speed, and I’m not there yet.”
Notes & quotes: Shepard wore his excitement on his sleeve. And on his chest. And his whole torso, really. Whether intentionally or not, he was wearing his LSU T-shirt on the same day Shurmur announced that the receiver will be reunited with his old college teammate Sunday.
“The last time I got to play with Odell Beckham, he was like 20, 21,” Shepard said. “I’m extremely excited to get to go out there and make plays for this team and help put this team in a great position.”
Shepard, in for Latimer, played the Saints “probably more than anyone in this locker room” from his years with the Buccaneers and Panthers, he said. “Being a No. 4 guy in an offense like this in general, you have to be able to know all three positions because you never know who goes down. Having that special-team background and being a No. 4 guy the last few years, the No. 3 guy, I understand the role I’m in.”