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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — 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 to play Sunday at Tennessee.
“Yeah, ready to go,” 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 the game less than nine months after tearing his left Achilles.
There appears 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 was crazy,” Shepard said. “That was my original goal. It didn’t work out that way, but I wanted to come back early. I got ripped off and that’s what I did.”
While Shepard will be back in 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 during 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 of how he felt. “I’ve been rehabbing. It’s day-to-day right now. I’ve just been working and trying to get better to get back in shape and get it going.”
It appears to be a long shot that the rookie will play this week.
The Giants’ wide receiver corps is in much better shape. Shepard and Kadarius Toney (hamstring) did not appear to be limited at all in practice. They drove well. So was Golladay, who the Giants recently revealed had a “minor procedure” this offseason that may have slowed him down this summer.
Having Shepard available is important. He has been a favorite of quarterback Daniel Jones – when he was healthy. He caught 16 balls for 217 yards in the first two games last year before injuries began to derail his season.
The problem is, Shepard has played in 16 games just once in the past five seasons. His personal goal this year is to stay on the field.
“I just want to be reliable for my teammates. I want to stay on the field. I want to play all 17 [games]. That’s my personal goal,” Shepard said. “I know if I’m on the field, I’m going to do my part. It’s never been my problem. It’s a physical game we play. Things happen from time to time. Just take care of my body as best I can and play my game. Whatever happens, happens. I don’t think about anything. I’m just playing.”
Now he is at that point. But it’s been a long road that Shepard admitted wasn’t always smooth. He naturally had thoughts about whether he should go back to being the player he once was.
Shepard, 29, has made significant progress since returning to practice.
“Gained so much strength in it. It’s different than [two] weeks ago or when I started practicing,” he said of his left Achilles. “I remember the first week coming back, the week before, I was thinking about pushing off and changing direction. When I got out there the first day against people, I noticed that I didn’t even think about it. Just pushed off. You don’t think about it. I noticed I can do it and then it was like okay, let’s roll.”
Week 1 immediately became a more realistic goal.
The Giants still opted to hold Shepard out of a joint practice and the final preseason game against the New York Jets. It was proportionate.
Shepard said he’s not worried about getting on the field in the game. In his mind, he has already crossed the most difficult obstacles.
“It’s not the punches you’re worried about when it comes to the Achilles. It’s more cutting and pushing off. That’s how you usually do it. Accelerate,” Shepard said. “You don’t worry about contact.”
Shepard, the longest-tenured Giants player (he’s 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.