Sterling Shepard continues to build on solid spring

Sterling Shepard has been the Giants' most productive receiver so far, an encouraging sign for a player looking to build off a strong rookie season. William Hauser/USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The first practice at mandatory minicamp looked an awful lot like New York Giants OTAs. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard was all over the field making catch after catch.

With the Giants being smart about Odell Beckham Jr. in his first practice back after skipping OTAs and Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram still learning the offense, Shepard has been the most consistent and productive receiver on the Quest Diagnostics Training Complex fields this spring. It’s an encouraging sign for a player coming off a productive rookie campaign that included eight touchdowns.

Shepard was a favorite of quarterback Eli Manning during OTAs. That was again the case on Tuesday at minicamp. Shepard caught several passes over the middle after shaking free from cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He beat linebacker B.J. Goodson with a quick move on another play. Shepard was catching everything thrown in his direction, and the passes were coming often.

“Sterling Shepard had a nice day,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “I think he went out and had a strong first day in camp. He really showed up well inside. Made a lot of plays, so it's good to have everyone out here working.”

Shepard has almost become the forgotten man with Marshall signed as a free agent and Engram the Giants’ first-round pick. But he’s not going anywhere in this West Coast offense, which ran over 90 percent of its plays last season in a three-wide-receiver set.

Shepard had 65 catches for 683 yards as a rookie. He has worked hard this season to improve on his yards after the catch. He looks quicker and stronger. He entered the league at 5-foot-10 and 194 pounds. He was compact then. He appears even broader in the shoulders now.

Everyone in the Giants building seems to be expecting big things, despite all the additions to the offense around him.

“He has such a bright future ahead of him and he puts that smile on your face,” Beckham said. “It reminds me of when I was young, it was my second year in the league, and you are just so happy to be here and to be happy to do what he is doing, so it is reassuring to see that from him.”

Limiting Beckham

It was the first practice of the year for Beckham and defensive end Olivier Vernon after they skipped voluntary minicamp. The Giants aren't going to overextend them here. Their reps were limited. Beckham had just seven snaps during team drills. On the first he dropped a deep pass after being grabbed by the shoulders by cornerback Janoris Jenkins. The only other pass thrown in his direction also fell incomplete. With this being spring, the end result wasn't all that important. That Beckham and Vernon were in the building and didn't pull anything in their first practice made it a successful day.

"It's good to have Odell and OV back," McAdoo said. "Glad to have them here, worked hard. Seem to be in great condition."

Layered in the heat

Left tackle Ereck Flowers had an interesting look at Tuesday’s minicamp. He was wearing a red hoodie underneath his uniform in the sweltering heat. (It was 91 degrees at the start of practice.)

Flowers has made an effort to slim down and be in better shape this offseason. But even McAdoo thought Tuesday's approach might have been excessive.

“I don't mind guys getting in a lather, but maybe it's a little too toasty for that [Tuesday],” McAdoo said. “It was a quick on and off, and I think Ereck knew that.”

Flowers wasn't the only Giant layered in the heat. Running back Shane Vereen had a similar look, and Jenkins, tackle Bobby Hart, wide receiver Dwayne Harris and wide receiver Tavarres King were among the players with long sleeves under their jerseys. And it was hot.

The injured and sick Giants

Safety Darian Thompson and cornerback Eli Apple weren’t at OTAs because of illnesses. They could be back later this week.

Offensive lineman Justin Pugh, tight end Rhett Ellison, wide receivers Kevin Snead and Kevin Norwood were among those limited or out of practice because of injuries. None are expected to be serious.

Linebacker J.T. Thomas also continued to work on the side with a trainer as he rehabs from a serious knee injury. He still hasn’t been cleared to practice.

Hands up

There have been a lot of batted passes at Giants practices this spring, and Tuesday was no different. At least three passes were knocked down at the line of scrimmage by the defensive line. Another was deflected near the line of scrimmage by safety Jadar Johnson and intercepted by Eric Pinkins.

Moving around

McAdoo has instituted a position flex period toward the end of practice. This gives guys an opportunity to work at other positions and improve their versatility and value. Linebacker Mark Herzlich has worked with the tight ends this spring. Defensive tackle Jarron Jones was at offensive line last week. Darius Powe also did some stuff with the tight ends on Tuesday. It’s something to expect more of from the Giants.

“The more you can do in this league, the greater chance you have to stick,” McAdoo said. “We're giving players the opportunity at the end of practice to grow and play multiple positions.”

Other notes on positions:

  • Engram received plenty of work with the first-team offense.

  • Adam Gettis remained the first-team left guard with Pugh sidelined.

  • Defensive tackle Robert Thomas was with the first-team defense alongside Damon Harrison.

  • Jacob Huesman looked to be first in line at fullback.

  • Cornerback Valentino Blake received a lot of first-team snaps with Apple not practicing. Blake was signed as a free agent this offseason. He fared well in a small sample of snaps against Beckham.