He’s been called a younger Victor Cruz. He’s been referred to as the next Odell Beckham Jr.
Sterling Shepard just wants to be himself.
Through the first two weeks of his NFL career, that’s been good enough. The Giants rookie has caught 11 passes for a team-high 160 yards and has caught all but one pass thrown his way. He has been targeted on six third-down passes and five of them have been converted for first downs.
“I expected this,” he told Newsday. “This is what I was born to do.”
What he wasn’t born to do, though, is fit into any preconceived notions about what he will accomplish or how he should act just because his mentors on the team do things a certain way. Take this week for example. While Beckham and Cruz have been trying to de-escalate the feud with Josh Norman, Shepard has been sitting back and watching how they go about what must be a very tiresome if not tedious few days. All the questions from the media about the subject, not to mention the questions the players undoubtedly have for themselves.
Although Shepard has been observing, he said he’s not necessarily following in those footsteps.
“I’m not going to change just because somebody else is doing something,” he told Newsday on Thursday. “I come in and I’m me every day. I’m never going to change what I do. I don’t focus on other people and I haven’t seen them focus on anybody else.”
Two weeks is way too soon to call Shepard a budding superstar, but he could one day find himself in a similar situation with a rival defender on a big stage. How he handles that, he said, will have nothing to do with what he has witnessed from Beckham and Cruz this week.
“They are role models for sure, but things like that I go my own route,” he said. “I know what to look at from them in a positive light with certain things. But when it comes to individual stuff and all that, I kind of do my own.”
Beckham is defined by his kinetic energy, always moving and dashing around no matter if at practice or in the locker room. The world, it seems, is his dance floor and the DJ in his head never takes a break. Cruz has matured over his career, but he’s always been a player who isn’t afraid to speak his mind on any number of topics. He can confidently scalpel an opponent with a smile.
So who is Shepard?
“Just regular day, regular person, yeah, I’m a chill, laid-back guy,” he said. “When I get on the field it’s a completely different story.”
The Giants and their opponents are learning that. Washington’s cornerbacks — including Norman — will learn the same thing if they try to get in his head and test him mentally with trash talk, the kind that clearly riled up Beckham to the point of distraction a year ago.
“I’ve been dealing with the same type of corners in college,” he said. “I just never really focus on what other people are doing. I just focus on what we have to do as a team to win. We don’t need to focus on all of the outside stuff that is going on, or what somebody else is doing.”
It’s a motto Shepard seems to follow both outside and within the walls of his new locker room.
He does him. No one else.
Thompson out. Rookie starting safety Darian Thompson will miss this week’s game and potentially more with a sprained foot that the Giants will evaluate on a week-to-week basis. Nat Berhe is expected to start in his place on Sunday, just as he did in the opener when Thompson was still recovering from a shoulder injury. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said he is concerned about depth at the position as the Giants put another safety, Mykkele Thompson, on injured reserve with a knee injury earlier in the week. Besides Landon Collins and Berhe they have no one else on the active roster dedicated to the position. Veteran cornerback Leon Hall has been taking reps there and Spagnuolo said he expects that to increase in regularity now.