Getting an important player back from injury is always uplifting.
Sterling Shepard’s return comes with a little trepidation, too.
The wide receiver has been cleared from the concussion protocol and will play against the Cowboys on Monday night, but given his two concussions already this season, the Giants and their medical staff will be watching closely to make sure he remains as healthy as he seems. For the rest of this season – probably for the rest of Shepard’s career – each hard hit he takes will cause his team and his family to hold their collective breath and worry.
“It’s scary getting two concussions,” Shepard said on Saturday, a day after he was examined by an independent neurologist and cleared to play, “so I definitely will be honest on how I’m feeling and be honest with the trainers.”
What he won’t do, he said, is alter his style of play. Shepard has made a name for himself as a hard-nosed receiver who isn’t afraid to run through heavy traffic and catch passes, not to mention one who enjoys blocking for the running backs. His first concussion, against the Cowboys in Week 1, came not from being tackled but from delivering such a block.
Those plays, he insists, will remain in his repertoire. He’ll be focusing about his assignments only, and not the concussions.
“You can’t think about it or I won’t be the player that I am,” he said. “Once that happens, I don’t need to play this game if I can’t go out and be the player that I am. I’m not going to be thinking about other stuff, I’m going to be thinking about making plays.”
For the first time, he and the rest of the play-makers will be together on the field. Shepard, fellow receiver Golden Tate, tight end Evan Engram, and running back Saquon Barkley have yet to play a single down together this year. Not even in the preseason. On Monday, the Giants’ offense finally takes the field as it was drawn up in the offseason.
“It looks pretty good on paper,” Shepard said of the group. “We’ve just got to go out and execute. We’ve got playmakers, guys that can make big plays, so we’ve got to go out there and execute our job.”
Off the field, though, Shepard is thinking about his concussions. He’s taken advantage of his down time and researched ways to keep healthy… and what signs to look for that will indicate he is not.
“I want to be as knowledgeable as I can of what I can do with this type of stuff and what I can do going forward, just to know what’s going on inside my body and going on with my brain,” he said. “I learned a lot of stuff. Different supplements to take that are approved by the league and different MRI’s that I can see the structural part of my brain, things like that, that are helpful.”
Shepard has missed three games, all of them Giants losses, since his second concussion. That one happened not from a jarring open-field hit but when his head was landed on during a passing play. It spun his helmet around, in fact, and the following day he felt symptoms. Shortly after that Oct. 6 game against the Vikings, Shepard said he felt symptom-free. The Giants still waited a month to allow him to return.
“It’s a tough deal with concussions,” Shepard said. “They don’t really know much about them and about the brain, so you have to give yourself time to recover and I understood that part of it. Was I happy about (sitting out)? Probably not, but I understood it.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” he added. “Usually, with an ankle you can feel it and if it’s not feeling good. With the head, you can go a week feeling great and feeling 100 percent and not really being 100 percent. So, you look at that and, yeah, it’s tough. It’s tough sitting out and feeling 100 percent, but you’ve got to listen to the doctors and that’s what I did.”
And now he is ready to be back on the field. For however long he can remain there.
“I’m just focused on going forward from here,” he said. “I’ve listened to everything the trainers have had me do and I feel good. I feel great, I’m ready to go out and play. Just focused on going forward.”
Notes & quotes: CB Sam Beal is eligible to be activated off injured reserve prior to the game against the Cowboys, but Pat Shurmur said on Saturday that it will be “more likely next week.” The Giants have until Wednesday to activate him or he reverts to season-ending injured reserve … Two other players have a chance to be designated for return from injured reserve in the coming weeks, though the Giants can use that roster tool on just one of them. Both WR Russell Shepard and LB Kareem Martin have been running on the side during practices this week … Shurmur said he has referenced the Washington Nationals’ World Series win in relationship to the Giants during discussions with the players this week. “We talked about it in our team meetings, how they had a slow start and then ended up having a magical year,” Shurmur said. “That was really great. We certainly don’t have the win total that we want or need at this point, but I anticipate that our guys are going to continue to play hard and put all our efforts into beating Dallas.”