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Sterling Shepard primed for a big season in Giants' new offense

Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepardruns with the ball

Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepardruns with the ball while pursued by Jets defensive back Trumaine Johnson at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 24, 2018. Credit: Daniel De Mato

So much attention was paid this summer to the offensive guys who were not always available for the Giants – Odell Beckham Jr. in preseason games, Saquon Barkley for some time with a hamstring tweak, even Evan Engram with a concussion for the past week – that it was easy to overlook the playmaker who was on the field the entirety of training camp. The one who was there all through the offseason training program, too.

And, if his production in the preseason games is any indicator of what he’ll be able to provide when the regular season begins, the one who could be on the verge of becoming the quietest superstar on the team.

Sterling Shepard, entering his third year, has had the most consistent and most valuable preseason of any Giants player on the offensive side of the ball. Now he’s about to bring that game with him to the regular season.

“I feel ready,” the wide receiver told Newsday. “I’ve been ready for a while now.”

That was fairly evident in his last preseason game against the Jets. Shepard was targeted on seven passes from Eli Manning. He caught all seven, including a few in heavy traffic.

“A gritty guy,” Pat Shurmur said of Shepard. “We can play him in the slot, we can play him outside. He gets involved in the run-blocking patterns. I really like what I’ve seen from him.”

Throughout the preseason, Shepard caught 10 passes for 114 yards, both team-highs. Two of his catches were for 27 yards or more. That’s a new wrinkle from last year, when he led the team in receiving yards but had just four catches all season that were 27 yards or longer.

“Personally I just want to progress every single year,” Shepard said. “I made a jump in some areas last year and I’m looking to make another jump.”

This Giants' offense should allow for that to happen. With the phantoms of summer now showing up healthy and ready to play, defenses will be focused on stopping Beckham and Barkley. Shepard will see more one-on-one opportunities.

“He does a great job of getting open against man,” Manning said. “You like that matchup. He gets separation and that’s what you like from those guys.”

The scheme will help, too. Instead of being stuck in the slot, the Giants’ new system calls for diversity and will put Shepard in various places on the field.

“We’ve moved him around a good bit with Odell being out in the spring and being limited early on in training camp,” Manning said. “He has gotten work outside and inside. The last couple of years he has been mostly inside.”

“It’s good to see that he can take on a load and produce,” Shurmur said. “We’ve been very pleased from what we’ve seen from him and he’s a guy that’s going to help us win games.”

Shepard insists he has parts of his game that need cleaning up before he takes the field against the Jaguars on Sunday. “There are also things you guys don’t see that I need to correct,” he said. “You look at it and you’re like, ok, that’s good, all the things I did well, but there are also things I didn’t do well.” Most of that, he said, is fine-tuning.

As for his goals this season, Shepard said they’re all team-related.

“Get this team back on track,” he said. “We didn’t have a very good season last year as everybody knows and that’s not the way the Giants do things. We’re trying to get back to that top-tier program.”

And if Shepard can emerge as a top-tier player as the preseason has suggested he is capable of doing, well, that will certainly help his cause.

Giants add DT Jenkins. The Giants continued to make changes to their roster by signing defensive tackle John Jenkins. The 6-3, 327-pounder was recently released by the Bears. Jenkins is the seventh new player added to the Giants’ roster since the weekend. To make room the Giants waived linebacker Romeo Okwara.

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