Sterling Shepard went into last year’s preseason games looking to make a splash.
“I was really eager to make something big happen and show that I can ball in a game-day setting,” the Giants wide receiver said.
He was the second-round pick, touted by none other than Odell Beckham Jr. as a star player, and wanted to live up to all of that, even in a meaningless environment.
This year, his second in the league, his goals in the preseason have changed. When he lines up against the Browns on Monday night for his first snaps of the summer, he won’t be focused on that game so much as the one Sept. 10 in Dallas. And the following week against the Lions. And the 14 regular-season games that will follow.
“It’s more just fine-tuning and getting ready for the season,” he said. “You don’t want to show everything that you have, but just get a handful of things that you want to work on. You’re not going to be in the whole game, so get those things done during the time that you are in there.”
It’s true that for many teams, preseason games are not so much about winning but preparing. Shaking off the rust from a long offseason, getting those first few hits out of the way and trying to not get injured.
For the Giants this year, though, there probably is more urgency than in the past. Last year, the starting offense struggled in each of its preseason games with Eli Manning at quarterback, and those doldrums seemed to carry throughout the regular season. Preseason games are meaningless, unless they aren’t.
The Giants have restocked their offense and expanded their repertoire of possibilities, and they are optimistic that they will be able to score at a more prolific rate than they did in 2016. It would be nice to show some of that the next few times they take the field, starting with Monday night in Cleveland.
“For your confidence, it’s definitely a positive, it’s a bonus,” guard Justin Pugh said of having success in the preseason. “But we want to go out there and make sure we’re doing the things to keep ascending, building things the right way. You don’t want to put much out there. We have meaningful games come September. But we also want to have that confidence rolling over, to have some successful plays and run the plays you want to run and execute them the right way. Make some good blocks and have some nice catches. Those are definitely going to help us.”
Though the starting offensive line and running back played in the opener Aug. 11, this will be the first time the entire offense will be on the field in competition. Ben McAdoo said he wants Manning & Co. to play into the second quarter. They’ll play the bulk of the game Saturday against the Jets. Then, McAdoo said, Manning likely will sit out the fourth preseason game.
That gives the Giants only a dozen or so possessions to iron things out, find a groove and get ready for the season. Somewhat.
“The thing with preseason,” Shepard said he’s learned, “is you don’t want to show everything that you have. You’re just going to get the basic plays, not all the fancy stuff you want to see or the big shots. You want to kind of keep all your good stuff under the radar.”
Bland play-calling, though, should not necessarily mean bland football.
“With the basic stuff, you can also make that look sharp,” Shepard said. “You have different options off the basic stuff. If everybody is clean, it should work out perfectly and you should be able to move the ball.”