EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Sterling Shepard's practice uniform was much less colorful today, an indication his broken thumb continues to heal with the Giants' opening game just three weeks away.
The team's leading returning receiver fractured his left thumb on July 25, in the first full-team training camp practice. Although he didn't play in either of the first two preseason games, Shepard has participated in most practices wearing a bright yellow pinny. The extra layer of clothing was intended to prevent teammates from hitting him after he caught a pass. Despite the planning and good intentions, it didn't always work out that way.
So today, Shepard practiced with neither the pinny nor restrictions.
"I didn't think the yellow jersey was doing much anyway," Shepard said after practice. "It's not that big of a difference.
"It's not an issue, I felt good. I'm doing everything that the trainers are telling me to do. We are on pace for where we want to be. I have broken my finger two or three times before this, so I kind of knew how long it was going to take and the process."
Shepard said the most important piece of equipment was not what he wore was over his jersey, but under the hard splint on his thumb.
"I put a little pad underneath, one of the doctors suggested it," he said. "It helps tremendously, so that's what I have been doing and it feels great."
Asked if he expected to wear it all season, Shepard said, "No, no way. I can't wait to get out of it. If I can get out of it tomorrow, I would. They want me to wear it."
Coach Pat Shurmur downplayed the significance of Shurmur shedding his yellow protector.
"He's been cleared all along to be out here, as we all saw," coach Pat Shurmur said. "It's just the next step in the process. He's fine."
Well, there is the little matter of playing in a game, a step Shepard said he is not yet ready to take. The Giants have two preseason games remaining, Thursday in Cincinnati and Aug. 29 at New England.
"If I could go, I would be going," he said. "I can't go right now, it's not ready to play in a game and I know that. Give it a couple more weeks and I feel like it will be. You don't want to go out there and risk another injury when you can prevent that."
The Giants open their season on Sept. 8 in Dallas, and Shepard fully expects to start.
"I don't see anything that can hold me back right now, unless something was to happen in practice," he said. "I'm on pace."
That's good news for the Giants. Shepard was always going to be one of their most vital offensive players, as he was in each of his first three seasons. But his ability to contribute will take on added importance in the season's first month, when fellow wideout and key free agent acquisition Golden Tate will be sidelined for the first four games while serving an NFL suspension.
Shepard, who last year caught 66 passes for 872 yards and four touchdowns, is accustomed to taking on the added responsibility and welcomes it again.
"The back five games of last season I was in the same situation," he said. "I felt like I handled it pretty well, so I imagine it being the same way. I'm going to go out and be myself and let everything take of itself. We have ballers in the room, and when Golden is back it's going to be a huge help as well. You see Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer, they make big plays. I have guys that are helping me out, I'm not the only one out there."
Shepard said Tate's absence will influence how often he lines up outside or in the slot.
"I'll be bouncing around a little bit more than I would if he was here," he said. "I kind of expected that going into the season anyway. My mind is set on that, and it should be fun."
*Less than 48 hours after defeating the Chicago Bears in a preseason game, 32-13, the Giants this afternoon returned to the practice field in full pads and steamy conditions.
"I thought it was a good practice," Shurmur said. "The fact that the heat went up and the humidity went up was a good thing, so we pushed them through it. It was probably a little bit more physical than you would have two days after a game, but being that we're still in training camp, I felt like it was necessary. The guys handled it great. We had some situational stuff within the team periods that we wanted to work on. We got that work done, and now we move on to tomorrow."
*Several players who missed the game returned to practice, either full or on a limited basis, including linebacker Alec Ogletree, running back Wayne Gallman, and offensive lineman Brian Mihalik.
*Tate did not practice because he is in the NFL concussion protocol.
*Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson was excused from practice for personal reasons.
Check out the top action shots as Big Blue returns to action on Sunday for another practice.