Now 2-6 on the season coming off a hard-fought loss to the Detroit Lions, the New York Giants have come back to earth after reeling off two straight wins with rookie Daniel Jones replacing Eli Manning under center. But despite their four-game losing streak, the new-look Giants still have a winning vibe in the locker room, according to wide receiver Sterling Shepard.
“We won a couple of games and there was a change in the locker room,” Shepard tells InsideHook. “You look around the locker room and we just have a great group of guys that want to win. We’re going to find a way to win. There’s a camaraderie we all have with each other.”
That camaraderie became apparent during Jones’s first game under center, when the Giants found themselves trailing by 18 points on the road against the Buccaneers but were able to score three touchdowns in the second half — one by Shepard — to escape with a one-point win despite losing star running back Saquon Barkley to injury.
“You have guys that want to win and that’ll fight for each other,” Shepard says. “If you look at the Buccaneers game, we were down pretty hefty at halftime and Saquon’s in there. He’s hurt and he’s not going to be able to return to the game, but guys didn’t bat an eye. Guys stuck together. It just shows you the nature of the team and you got to love it.”
Unfortunately for Shepard, who was at MacArthur Playground in Manhattan with his one-year-old daughter Cali Clay last week installing changing tables as part of Pampers Make a Difference Day, he hasn’t been able to help his team the past few weeks due to a concussion.
“It’s tough,” the 26-year-old says. “You grind the whole offseason with the guys and, being sidelined by an injury, it’s pretty tough. I’ve got to find a different way to lead and a different way to help out the guys. I’ve been looking at a lot of film for them and relaying what I’m seeing. Just looking at it from a different aspect.”
Being on the sideline has given Shepard an appreciation for the poise that Jones, who was drafted No. 6 overall out of Duke, shows in the pocket.
“He’s always going to stand in there and take a shot for you,” Shepard says. “Just the ultimate teammate. He does a great job whenever he takes off running, too. He’s a true competitor so he wants to get every inch. I wish he would slide a little bit more, which is something I’ve been talking to him about, but it’s tough.”
After three-plus years with Manning as his quarterback, Shepard is still in the early stages of developing a rapport with Jones, so having those kinds of conversations is important, as is putting in extra work.
“I didn’t really have much time to work with Daniel over the preseason and during camp because Eli was the starter at that point,” Shepard says. “We’ve done a great job of staying after practice and getting extra reps that we need so that we feel comfortable with the timing in the game. He does a great job preparing, so you don’t have to worry about him there.”
Jones isn’t the only one with a new role this year, as Shepard, who agreed to a four-year contract extension worth up to $41 million during the offseason, has stepped into the shoes of departed No. 1 wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
“It’s an opportunity I’ve been waiting on,” Shepard says.”I just have to seize the opportunity. It’s been tough with the injury and everything, but when I’m out there I feel like I’ve been doing a great job. We’ve been doing a great job moving the ball and starting fast. We have a lot of guys who can make plays which makes it easier on, I guess you’d say, the No. 1 receiver.”
Though Shepard — who has caught 25 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown in four games this season — still keeps in touch with Beckham and talks to him every week, he’s fully embraced his role as Jones’s top target and a key part of a young offensive core that also includes Jones, Barkley and tight end Evan Engram.
“I feel like they turned it over to guys that can handle it,” he says of the proverbial keys to the New York offense. “We have a lot of talent on the team and a veteran in Golden Tate, who’s been helpful. It’s great to have guys like that. You’re able to bounce ideas off of them and ask them questions. They’ve been around for a while so they’re able to help with that. I think every guy plays a hand in the culture change. I can’t narrow it down to one specific guy … Michael Thomas, who has been playing great for us on special teams and on defense, he’s one of the big guys that I can point out. We have a lot of great guys.”
And Manning, who still plays pranks in the locker room, is one of them.”He’s a pretty big prankster,” Shepard says “I can’t give away his secrets … He’ll be mad at me. I can’t give him away, but he is a big prankster, a goofball.”