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Hunter Sharp's uneven game leaves Giants' punt return job undecided

Giants wide receiver Hunter Sharp fields a punt

Giants wide receiver Hunter Sharp fields a punt and returns it for a touchdown during the first half at MetLife Stadium on Friday. Credit: Daniel De Mato

Unsettled.

That was the word Pat Shurmur used earlier this week to describe the Giants’ special-teams return situation.

For most of the preseason, the Giants have been waiting for someone to flash and grab hold of the important job that likely also will serve as the gateway to the final wide receiver spot on the 53-man roster.

“We have guys back there working,” Shurmur said. “We’ll just play it out through the preseason and see where it goes.”

On Friday night, Hunter Sharp looked to settle things.

The third-year receiver, who is in his first stint with the Giants, provided the team’s most exciting play of the first half — and its only touchdown — when he returned a punt 55 yards for a score late in the first quarter.

Sharp picked up a nicely timed block from Ray-Ray Armstrong, who backed into a defender as if he were holding a door open for someone, used a driving block by Roger Lewis Jr., who pancaked his man out of bounds, and threw a stiff-arm at Neville Hewitt at the 15 before coasting into the end zone.

Under normal circumstances, it would have made him the leader in the clubhouse for that job. But when the Giants look at the role, they want more than just one flashy play, or even the ability to make it.

Sharp also played offense with the starters in the first half and had two third-down passes thrown in his direction. He dropped both of them.

“I was happy because I worked hard on [punt returns] this week, but I just have to get back to work on focusing on every part of my game,” Sharp said. “I’m happy, but it’s hard to be happy when I didn’t make the plays on offense . . . I feel like the coaches will hold [the drops] against me. It’s hard to make the team as a receiver when you don’t catch the ball.”

That goes against everything Shurmur emphasizes. “One of the major points of emphasis when we started going to work here is that we can’t be a good football team unless we catch the ball,” he said.

The first Sharp drop would have been a difficult catch. Eli Manning put the ball over his shoulder toward the sideline on third-and-7 from the Giants’ 44 on their first possession of the game. It was a touch high, but Sharp got his hands on the ball and should have brought it in.

The second opportunity was a flat-out drop. On third-and-6 from the Jets’ 30, Sharp was open coming across the field on a crossing route. Manning hit him in stride but the ball fell to the turf. The Giants had to settle for a field goal that gave them a 13-10 lead.

Sharp was harder on himself than Shurmur was.

“I’ve really liked what he’s done through training camp,” Shurmur said. “Those [drops] are two isolated plays, but he also got us in the end zone on the punt return. There’s a lot of good things he did tonight.”

To make Sharp’s status even more tenuous, backup punt returner Kalif Raymond had a nice 30-yard punt return in the second quarter, tiptoeing down the sideline.

All of which left the return job just as unsettled as it was when the game began.

New York Sports