For a guy who didn’t take a snap in a preseason game, Sterling Shepard had an eventful summer.
It started with him fracturing the tip of his left thumb in the first workout of training camp; saw him wear a splint while catching passes in practice; had him donning a yellow non-contact jersey that other players at times seemed to ignore; and brought consternation upon the Giants for being too risky with a player they are counting on for so much this season.
All of it, though, has worked out for Shepard and the team.
He long ago ditched the non-contact shell, hasn’t worn the splint in about a week and a half and is fully healthy for the regular season opener against the Cowboys on Sunday.
“To be honest, this feels a lot better than the past few times that I’ve broken it,” Shepard said on Monday of the recovery from this latest fracture, one in a somewhat long line of finger injuries he’s sustained throughout his football career. “This is probably one of the best breaks that I’ve experienced.”
All joking aside, intentional or otherwise, Shepard made it through the August gauntlet just the way he wanted to: Ready to become the Giants’ top receiving threat.
Odell Beckham Jr. no longer is with the team, and free agent acquisition Golden Tate is suspended for four games. The Giants do have a crew of veterans who can play the wide receiver position in Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler and Russell Shepard, but Sterling Shepard is the receiver the Giants need to produce for their offense to function. He needs to become a No. 1.
The Giants signed him to a four-year, $41 million extension this offseason expecting he will be.
“I’ve said it before, I have guys that I can go to,” Sterling Shepard said. “We’ve got a lot of guys in the room who can make plays, so that makes you a little bit more comfortable, but I’m ready for the opportunity. I’m ready to help the team out.”
When he does that on Sunday, it will be the first time he’ll be on the field in a game situation with Eli Manning and the starting offense since the end of last year. It also will be the first time Saquon Barkley will be there, as he too sat out the entire preseason. Tight end Evan Engram played about a half dozen snaps in one preseason game.
The most important pieces of the Giants’ offense, in other words, have spent the preseason just like Shepard’s thumb: fractured. They worked together in practices, but not in live game situations. Can they fuse together quickly?
Will they need a splint?
“I think, whether you have guys playing in the preseason or not, it’s a little different in the regular season, so we’ll get adjusted quickly,” Shepard said. “It’s been looking good at practice, so I feel like what you do at practice translates well to the field if you’re doing things the right way.”
Not everything did go the right way. The summer did not go as planned. There were twists and bumps and X-rays and yellow jerseys. But Shepard and the Giants have arrived at the destination in one piece.
As a football team, that’s really all you can ask for from a preseason.