Giants WR Sterling Shepard 'ready to go' in Week 1 after Achilles injury late in 2021 season

ByJordan Raanan ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 7, 2022

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard tore an Achilles late last year. That's not going to stop him from playing in this year's season opener against the Titans.

Shepard fully plans on playing Sunday in Tennessee.

"Yep, ready to go," he told ESPN.

Shepard returned to practice just over two weeks ago. He did not appear in a preseason contest. But the veteran receiver will be back in game action less than nine months after tearing his left Achilles.

There seems to be a realistic chance he starts opposite Kenny Golladay.

"My original goal was to [come back] like [Los Angeles Rams running back] Cam Akers, and he did it two months before I did it. That was crazy," Shepard said. "That was my original goal. It didn't work out that way, but I wanted to come back early. I worked my ass off and that is what I did."

While Shepard will be back for Week 1, there is a little less optimism for Giants outside linebackers Kayvon Thibodeaux (sprained right MCL) and Azeez Ojulari (calf). Both Thibodeaux and Ojulari returned to the practice field Tuesday for the first time since suffering their injuries, but they were extremely limited. Neither was seen jogging in the 20 minutes open to the media.

Thibodeaux, the fifth overall pick in this year's NFL draft, was given a three-to-four-week timeline for the knee injury he suffered in the second preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It has been 16 days since that injury.

"Pretty good. Pretty good," he said about how he was feeling. "I've been rehabbing. It's day-to-day right now. I've just been working, trying to get better to get back in shape and get it going."

It appears a long shot that the rookie will play this week.

The Giants' wide receiving corps is in much better shape. Shepard and Kadarius Toney (hamstring) did not appear to be limited at all in practice. They were running well. So was Golladay, who the Giants revealed recently had a "little procedure" this offseason that perhaps slowed him this summer.

Having Shepard available is important. He has been a favorite of quarterbackDaniel Jones--when healthy. He caught 16 balls for 217 yards in the first two games last year before injuries started derailing his season.

The problem is that Shepard has played in 16 games just once in the past five seasons. His personal goal this year is to remain on the field.

"I just want to be reliable for my teammates. I want to stay on the field. I want to play a full 17 [games]. That's my personal goal," Shepard said. "I know if I'm on the field I'm going to do my thing. That has never been my problem. It's a physical game we play. Stuff happens from time to time. Just taking care of my body the best I can and play my game. Whatever happens, happens. I don't think about anything. I just play."

Now, he's at that point. But it has been a long road that Shepard admitted wasn't always smooth. He naturally had thoughts about whether he was going to be back to being the player he once was.

Shepard, 29, has made significant strides since returning to practice.

"Gained so much strength in it. It's different than [two] weeks ago or whenever I started practicing," he said of his left Achilles. "I remember the first week coming back, the week before that I was thinking about pushing off and changing direction. When I got out there first day against people, I noticed I didn't even think about it. Just pushed off. You're not thinking about it. I noticed I can do it and then it was, all right, let's roll."

Week 1 immediately became a more realistic goal.

The Giants still elected to hold Shepard out of a joint practice and the final preseason game against the New York Jets. It was precautionary.

Shepard said he's not worried about getting on the field in game action. In his mind, he has already crossed the most difficult hurdles.

"It isn't the hits you're worried about when it comes to the Achilles. It's more cutting and pushing off. That is how you usually do it. Accelerating," Shepard said. "You don't worry about contact."

Shepard, the longest-tenured Giants player (he has been with the team since 2016), has consistently produced when healthy. He has 349 receptions for 3,884 yards and 21 touchdown receptions in his career.