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5 things we learned (9/29): Filling in for Shep


It's a quick turnaround for the Giants this week. After falling to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night for their first loss of the season, Brian Daboll's squad quickly turned the page to Week 4 and the Chicago Bears.

Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey met with the media prior to the start of practice before several players spoke in the locker room after the session.

Here are five things we learned today as preparations for the Bears continued:

1. Filling in for Shep

The Giants were dealt a devastating blow Monday night as veteran wide receiver Sterling Shepard suffered an ACL injury that will cost him the rest of the season. The longest-tenured player on the team, Shepard's 154 receiving yards through three games are the most of any Giant this season, while his 13 receptions are tied for the second-most. Replacing Shepard's production will not be an easy task, but Kafka believes in the rest of the players in the WR room.

"We'll look for guys to step up and replace that and/or step up and fill those needs and the things we need to do on offense," said the offensive coordinator. "Players have got to rise to the level that we need them to around the entire group in the receiver room. I think guys will do that and I think it starts today in practice."

One player who has risen to the occasion when given the opportunity is Richie James. James is second behind Shepard with 146 receiving yards, while his 14 receptions leads the team. The 27-year-old has been consistent each week, finishing with at least four receptions in every game and catching almost every ball thrown in his direction.

"I think the way it's shaken out, Richie has done a great job stepping in," Kafka said. "We've had some injuries and things like that, but he's stepped up to the plate and you're going to see that across the board when you have injuries like that. Next man up has got to step up. He's a guy that we trust in those situations, and he's done a great job with it."

View photos from practice as the New York Giants gear up for their Week 4 matchup against the Chicago Bears.

2. Bellinger 'has done a great job'

Daniel Bellinger's NFL career got off to a slow start after he was not targeted in the season opener against the Titans. However, the rookie tight end has picked it up in the two games since.

Bellinger caught his first NFL reception against the Panthers in Week 2 and took it 16 yards for a touchdown. Then, he caught four passes for 40 yards against the Cowboys. Heading into Week 4, his 70.1 overall grade ranks No. 7 among all tight ends and is the top mark among rookies at the position.

"Bell' has done a great job," said the offensive coordinator. "(Tight ends) Coach (Andy) Bischoff has done a great job with him since he's gotten in here. I think you're just seeing that type of growth from that kid. He's just putting in the work every single day and he's improving. He's improving a lot of things – run blocking, route running. You're seeing it at practice and you're seeing it show up in the game."

3. 'Nowhere to go but up' for Kayvon, Azeez

The Giants finally saw the 2022 debuts of their top two outside linebackers against the Cowboys in Week 3. For Kayvon Thibodeaux, it was the rookie's first NFL game in which he picked up one solo tackle, a pressure and a pass breakup. While Ojulari didn't make much of an impact on the box score, he drew two holding penalties on the Cowboys. Both players were on a pitch count Monday, and their defensive coordinator can't wait to see more.

"I think that for a rookie, there can't be rust," Martindale said about Thibodeaux's debut. "It's just new. He really hasn't practiced that much since the injury. He's done a lot of rehabbing and all that stuff, but he hasn't done a lot of 11 on 11 work, with Kayvon. As you know, and I think Brian (Daboll) noted, they were on a pitch count. Zeez drew two holding calls, so that tells me that he's doing things right. I think it's nowhere to go but up with those two and I'm excited to see it."

There is no denying that the No. 5 overall pick in this year's draft has confidence in himself. Thibodeaux is not shy of showing off his big personality, something that his defensive coordinator is a huge fan of.

"I think Kayvon's Kayvon," said Martindale. "I think that that's one of the reasons why I love him is because he's a confident young man, has some ambition to him and has goals and he's going to go after them. I'd take 11 of guys like that. You better stay humble in this game, period, win or lose because that's the way this league is. As soon as you lose your humility, it will come up and slap you right upside the head, the league will… I'm just expecting great things from him."

4. Scouting Chicago's 'explosive' run game

The Chicago Bears make it no secret what they want to do on offense – they want to pound the ball on the ground. The Bears are the most run-heavy team (65%) in the NFL and enter Week 4 ranked second in the league in both rushing attempts (104) and yards (560). David Montgomery suffered knee and ankle injuries in last week's win, and it remains to be seen if he'll be able to suit up this weekend. Montgomery has averaged 4.5 yards per carry this season, taking 35 carries for 159 yards. Regardless of Montgomery's status, Khalil Herbert figures to have a role in this week's game. Stepping in for the injured starter last week, Herbert ran the ball 20 times for an impressive 157 yards (7.9 avg.) and two touchdowns against the Texans. He has 240 yards on 33 carries (7.3 avg.) and three touchdowns.

"We're going to have a great test this week because an elite running game is coming to town here at MetLife," said the defensive coordinator. "We have to make sure we're on point every single play because they have two really good backs, and their quarterback is phenomenal with the ball in his hands as well… those backs are explosive backs who run hard, old school hard. That offensive line, they work well together, especially in the run game.

As Martindale mentioned, Justin Fields is also a threat to run with the ball. The second-year quarterback has registered 27 rushing attempts this season and has gained 95 yards with a touchdown. The former No. 11 overall pick ran for 420 yards on 72 carries (5.8 avg.) with two touchdowns last year.

"Really, it's one of those things that you've got to know where to attack and how to attack," Martindale said about being aggressive with pressures against a mobile QB. "I think that we'll work on that this week and try to give him some different looks, but he's big and strong and he can run. We've got our work cut out for us."

5. Roster, injury updates

The Giants made a couple of roster moves over the last few days. It began Tuesday with running back Antonio Williams being waived and outside linebacker Chuck Wiley being terminated from the practice squad. On Wednesday, Sterling Shepard was put on injured reserve and veteran cornerback Fabian Moreau was signed from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. The Giants also added receiver Makai Polk and defensive back Olaijah Griffin to the practice squad. On Thursday, Williams was re-signed to the practice squad and tackle Roy Mbaeteka was let go.

As the roster currently stands, the Giants have 52 players with one open spot.

In terms of injuries, the Giants had two changes on the injury report from Wednesday to Thursday. After missing Wednesday's practice, outside linebacker Jihad Ward (knee) was back on the practice field as a limited participant. Additionally, cornerback Justin Layne (concussion) was upgraded from limited to full. Cornerback Aaron Robinson was limited for the second consecutive day after missing the last two games with appendicitis.

CB Cor'Dale Flott (calf), CB Nick McCloud (hamstring), WR Wan'Dale Robinson (knee), WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring) and DL Leonard Williams (knee) did not practice for the second straight day.

View rare photos of the all-time history between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears.

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Limited tickets available for Giants vs. Bears on October 2