EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Well, at least one member of the Giants' gang of four believes he will play Monday night in Kansas City.
Wide receiver Sterling Shepard practiced on a limited basis Thursday and, barring a setback, will be in the lineup against the two-time defending AFC champion Chiefs.
But while Shepard tries to avoid taking a step back, his fellow injured offensive standouts have yet to step forward into practice. Running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) and wide receivers Kenny Golladay (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle) were all non-participants, leaving Shepard, at least today, as the only likely returnee on Monday Night Football.
"I'm super confident," Shepard said after practice. "I don't really know the status of those guys, so I can't answer for them, but I can answer for myself. I've been feeling great lately. I'm hoping like I said, it's a go.
"I'm feeling a lot better, just listening to the trainers. Doing whatever they're telling me to do."
Coach Joe Judge said he is "optimistic," but on a different level.
"Sterling did some good stuff at practice today," Judge said. "We'll see tomorrow and Saturday how he comes out of some things that he was limited (in). The other guys stayed with the trainers for the first part of the day. Making good progress though as a group, so we'll see where it goes. I'm pretty optimistic about it."
Optimistic they might play Monday?
"Optimistic about how they're working and how they're coming along," Judge said. "I couldn't give you a full gauge on Monday right now, but in terms of maybe getting them out to practice tomorrow and getting them some reps, I'm feeling good about that."
None of the four players were in uniform for the Giants' 25-3 victory Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Barkley and Golladay missed their second straight game since they were injured on Oct. 10 in Dallas. Toney was hurt after catching his third pass on the opening drive the following week against the Los Angeles Rams. Shepard was inactive for the third time in four weeks against the Panthers.
Since he was on the field today and is the closest to returning, Shepard today spoke to reporters and became the unofficial spokesman for the group.
"Everyone is super anxious to get back out there," he said. "This is what we love to do. Go out there and perform on Sundays and not being able to do that, it stinks. Everybody is doing what they have to do, listening to the trainers. Guys are eager, but you've got to listen to your body at the same time. It's hard."
Shepard has been reminded of that more than once this season. He injured his right hamstring against Atlanta on Sept. 26, which forced him to miss games at New Orleans and Dallas. Shepard returned to action against Los Angeles and caught 10 passes, the fourth double-digit receptions game of his career.
When the Giants began their preparation for the Panthers last week, Shepard figured he'd play in the game. But then he felt something unusual in his left hamstring.
"Running a route," he said. "Last one there, kind of tweaked it again. Wasn't too bad, but it was enough."
Shepard was still hoping to play when he arrived at MetLife Stadium on gameday. But a pregame workout to test his leg ended quickly when it became apparent it hadn't healed enough for him to participate.
"I ran the first couple of routes pretty good," he said. "Then, kind of got fatigued on me pretty quick and I knew right then that if I wasn't going to be able to go full 100 percent, that there was no point of me being out there. We've got guys that can go. (Wide receiver) Dante (Pettis) did a great job in the game and I knew that he would go out there and do his thing. That was a decision that I made."
Indeed, Pettis caught five passes for 39 yards and a touchdown and helped execute the play of the game with a 16-yard pass to quarterback Daniel Jones, who made a terrific one-handed catch.
"It was nasty," Shepard said. "Did you see me on the sideline hopping around?"
Shepard has one regret about the play.
"I wanted to throw it," he said. "That was supposed to be me throwing it, but Dante laid it up nice. D.J. almost got it.
"I threw some in practice but wasn't too hot (laughs). I'm not going to lie, wasn't too hot. … I've got an arm. I think it's just my gloves are a little bit slippery or something."
He'd like nothing more than an opportunity to show what we can do in Arrowhead Stadium.
*Two other players did not practice, linebacker Lorenzo Carter and safety Nate Ebner, both with ankle injuries.
"Nate was not out here, so he was with the trainers today," Judge said. "We'll see where he's at. He hasn't done a whole lot just yet."
In addition to Shepard, three players were limited: tight ends Evan Engram (calf) and Kaden Smith (knee) and defensive lineman Danny Shelton (pec).
"I think you're probably going to see that listing for a long time with (Engram) him and several other players," Judge said. "It's going to kind of just be part of it for a few of these guys who have some stuff that's accumulating throughout the year. We will bring him out here. He practices. He goes through practice with us. There may be a drill here or there that we hold him out of for different reasons. That's where he'll kind of have the 'limited' thing right there, but in terms of him, he's been moving around with us. I think you're probably going to see a lot of these guys with kind of listings being the same throughout the week."