To elevate his game, Sterling Shepard picks Odell Beckham's brain

WALDWICK, N.J. -- There is more to playing wide receiver than running, catching and scoring. It's much more complex at the NFL level.

Sterling Shepard has spent part of his offseason refining his skills and restocking his brain to become better at the craft. This month, for example, he worked alongside teammate Odell Beckham Jr. and his trainer, Jamal Liggin, in Los Angeles.

Shepard, 24, believes the benefits should pay off on the field this season.

"Training around the best to do it [Beckham] in my eyes," he said Saturday at the Hyundai Youth Football Camp. "Being around Odell every day and picking his brain to see how he works. I can see how he works every day [during the season], but in the offseason, the different stuff training-wise and not just solely on football."

Things such as how he takes care of his body, eats and gets off the line of scrimmage were addressed. Shepard, entering his second season, now feels more confident in knowing what he should be doing.

While his rookie season was admittedly a whirlwind, the second-round pick managed 65 catches for 683 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He followed that with a strong spring that opened coaches' eyes. Shepard was among the most improved players on the field during OTAs and minicamp, and there were many days when he was the favorite target of quarterback Eli Manning.

That could translate to the regular season. Even with the addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall and pass-catching tight end Evan Engram, Shepard's performance could markedly improve in his second season. He's still going to be on the field plenty and receive almost all the slot snaps. He will get his targets.

To see an increase in production, Shepard knows what he must do. It was a focus this offseason.

"I'm always working on speed. I feel that is the biggest thing -- trying to separate," Shepard said. "That is what I'm trying to do. I want to get to where I can do deep routes, yards after catch, too. That is the main thing I'm working on. Speed."

Shepard averaged 10.5 yards per reception last season. His longest catch went for 32 yards, and he totaled just 258 yards after the catch. His 3.95 average yards after the catch was in the bottom half of the league for wide receivers.

There is hope that this season will be different for an athlete who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds and had a 41-inch vertical leap at his pro day. So he does have athleticism and explosion.

"I just feel like it's me being more comfortable," Shepard said. "First season you go in and you don't know what to expect. It's a faster pace. I feel like toward the back end of the season, I started to get more comfortable, but I wasn't completely comfortable. So now going into this, I have a lot more confidence and I know what to expect. I'm on the same page as Eli. Still working on it, but for the most part I'm on the same page as him."

He sure sounds and looks more like a veteran. Shepard held his first football camp since joining the Giants on Saturday at the Superdome Sports Complex in Waldwick, New Jersey. Some 600 children ages 7-13 attended the free camp and were able to take one-on-one pictures with the second-year receiver.

It was an opportunity for Shepard to put smiles on faces and spread his message.

"If you ask half those kids, they're going to tell you they want to be a football player or something," he said. "But what they got to know is that there is work they have to put in on the field and in the classroom, as well. I was putting a big emphasis on taking care of business in the classroom, not just on the field. You have to do both. There needs to be a balance."

That thinking still applies later in life. Shepard heeded his own advice this offseason when he went to work in Los Angeles. He's hoping it pays dividends this season.