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Sterling Shepard benefited from being the No. 1 Giants receiver last season

Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard catches a pass

Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard catches a pass during training camp on July 26, 2018. Credit: Brad Penner

When the Giants’ wide receiver room essentially was gutted in a single game last October with Odell Beckham Jr., Dwayne Harris and Brandon Marshall all leaving the field with season-ending injuries, Sterling Shepard was the only established target left in the offense. He used that experience to grow as a player, broaden his skills, and get a taste of being the No. 1 target.

“It was tough on me, but I think it helped me grow as a leader,” Shepard said on Thursday. “You kind of are thrown into that spotlight of being a leader and the guy with the most experience and I feel like it’s helped me in that way, just growing as a leader and hopefully progress from there.”

This year, though, he’s happy to go back to being the other guy.

With the return of Beckham, Shepard once again will be the sidekick when folks think about receiving duos. And that should help him.

“I’d say it’ll make it a lot easier,” Shepard said. “You’ve got a guy like Odell who’s so explosive and can make a play at any moment and you’ve got to keep your eyes on him, so the defense is going to be focused in on him and that leaves me one-on-one a lot of times. That’s something you like as a receiver.”

Shepard, of course, is no slouch. He’s had two strong seasons -- 124 catches, 1,414 yards, 10 TDs, in total -- and he’s evolving into a more dangerous weapon for the offense now that he is playing on the outside a little more and not just running routes from the slot. With Beckham sidelined throughout the spring, Shepard was able to get those important reps.

“In college they said I was just a slot receiver and I proved I could play outside,” Shepard said. “I feel like I can do the same thing this year. I mean, people are looking at me as mostly a slot guy, which I am, but it’s ‘receiver’ at the end of the day. You have to know how to get open, no matter where you are on the field, so I’m looking forward to the challenge and we’ll see how it goes.”

In Thursday’s practice, Shepard was on the outside with Beckham lined up in the slot. That’s a different look than what the Giants had on the field in the past.

“In the other offense you’re kind of stuck in one spot if you’re not the [main receiver], but in this offense you can be outside, inside, you really don’t know, and then we have a lot of personnel changes as well,” Shepard said. “I mean, if you stay in the same personnel every time then the defense only has to prepare for that one personnel [group]. If you’ve got guys moving around, it definitely is a challenge for the defense and that’s what you see in this offense, a lot of moving parts.”

As long as they are moving up and down the field, Shepard will be happy to play whatever role is needed.

“You saw how when those guys went down how it affected the team and we’re just happy to have [Beckham] back,” Shepard said. “They’re out there running around and having a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to seeing those guys make big plays.”

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