EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It took just one day and three injuries for the spotlight at the Giants’ training camp to shift from the quarterbacks to the wide receivers.
In the team’s first full-squad practice yesterday, Sterling Shepard, expected to be the team’s top wideout, fractured his left thumb. The fourth-year pro will be evaluated week-to-week, but coach Pat Shurmur stressed that Shepard will not be out long-term.
“He’ll be back soon,” Shurmur said. “It’s the tip of his thumb. I’m not concerned about that one at all.”
Shepard was on the practice field on Friday going through drills without having the ball thrown his way.
There is more concern about the position group’s other injuries. Corey Coleman – a former first-round draft choice in Cleveland who was entering his second season with the team and fourth in the NFL – tore his anterior cruciate ligament and will likely miss the entire season. And rookie Darius Slayton is day-to-day after tweaking his hamstring on Tuesday.
“I feel bad for (Coleman) because he’s worked really hard,” Shurmur said. “We’ll just have to see where it is.”
The receivers are a close-knit group, and his colleagues in their meeting room were saddened to hear of Coleman’s injury.
“After hearing the news on Corey, definitely a bit deflated,” said first-year Giant Golden Tate. “Corey had a great offseason, worked hard on his craft, and we saw huge jumps from him. So for him, (and for) something like that to happen, definitely can’t help but deflate you a little bit. We all see him as a brother, so it’s tough to see that.”
“It feels like there is a dark cloud over our room right now,” Slayton said. “Sterling’s injury wasn’t major, mine wasn’t major. Really the only major one suffered was Corey. Obviously, Sterling he is going to try his best to get back as quickly as possible and I’m going to try to do the same. At the same time, we are rooting for Corey and his recovery.”
General manager Dave Gettleman, who has been evaluating personnel in the NFL for more than 30 years, said suffering a spate of injuries in one group is not uncommon.
“Historically what happens is you have runs at a position,” Gettleman said. “We started camp with 11 receivers. Right away, (rookie free agent) Alex Wesley is on PUP. So now you’re down to 10. Then we decide to make the claim to get (Da’Mari) Scott from Buffalo. You do that and think you’re back up to 12, but you’re really not and now all of a sudden, you’re down to nine. The problem is it really affects the way practice operates. It affects the way Pat writes the script, Pat and (coordinator) Mike Shula write the offensive script and everything, so it hurts. Then, what happens is you have X amount of reps. Now you have fewer people taking those reps. Consequently, the short answer is, yeah, we’re going to have a workout tomorrow and we’re going to do something (to add one or more receivers).”
Shurmur called Coleman, who was vying for a larger role this season, “a guy that had a chance to be in there and compete to either start or have a role.”
Coleman was the 15th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. Last year, he was traded to Buffalo and had a brief stint with New England before he The Browns traded him last year 8 “Coleman, a former Cleveland Browns first-round draft choice, was signed by the Giants to their practice squad on Oct. 18 and to the active roster a week later.
He played in eight games with one start and led the Giants with 23 kickoff returns for 598 yards (26.0-yard avg), with a long of 51 yards. Coleman also had five receptions for 71 yards, one rushing attempt for five yards, and one punt return for 19 yards. He returned three kickoffs for 91 yards, including a 51-yarder, and caught one pass for 11 yards in his Giants debut at San Francisco on Nov. 12.
The Giants have several intriguing wideouts on their roster. Tate, a 10-year pro who has previously played for Seattle, Detroit and Philadelphia, has 611 career receptions, including 38 for touchdowns. Veterans Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard and Bennie Fowler all contributed last year. Brittan Golden, Alonzo Russell, Reggie White and Scott are also in camp.
Third-year tight end Evan Engram is also in the mix.
“I think he’s got wide receiver traits,” Shurmur said. “We actually use him in a detached role, or what would appear to be a wide receiver role. We did it last year, and we’ll continue to do that.”
The Giants are particularly eager to look at Slayton, a fifth-round draft choice who might be the receiver most capable of consistently running deep routes. He averaged 20.3 yards on his 79 career catches at Auburn.
“If anything, with these (injuries) going on, it’s made me extremely eager to get back because of the opportunities that are available,” Slayton said.
“I think I can have a positive (impact). I can bring some team speed to the offense, and the ability to make plays with the ball in open space. Hopefully, once I get back from injury and back to practice, I can get back into the swing of things. Throughout preseason, kind of get a feel for games and how it is competing against other teams in the NFL. Just have a positive impact this year.”
Coleman’s absence also leaves questions in the return game. After him, the player with the next highest total of kickoff returns last season was Latimer, with five. Coleman can also return punts. Tate has 97 career punt returns and has some experience returning kickoffs, and safety Jabrill Peppers had a combined 88 punt and kickoff returns in his two seasons with Cleveland.
“We still have guys that can do it,” Shurmur said. “We have Latimer. We have Golden Tate, Brittan Golden. So, we’ve got guys back there that have done it, and we feel good about them.”