For the past three seasons, Sterling Shepard has come into training camp knowing that Odell Beckham Jr. was going to be next to him in the receivers room. The two were great friends, working out together in the offseason on the West Coast and spending time together off the field during the season as well.
But that all changed when No. 87 walked into the doors in East Rutherford on Wednesday.
Beckham has been traded to the Browns, and now Shepard is the longest-tenured Giant in that receivers room. In turn, the Giants are certainly going to be putting more pressure on Shepard to step up in the absence of their No. 1 receiver.
Can Shepard take on that role left by Beckham? He knows that's the expectation, and after stepping up for Beckham during his time on the IR in the past two seasons, he believes he's ready to answer the call.
"I know a little bit is going to be added on my plate," Shepard told the media during check-in day at Quest Diagnostics Training Facility. "But I feel like I've been groomed and I've been prepared for this moment with Odell going out the past two seasons. I think I've just been groomed for that position. I'm really just focused on the guys we have in the locker room and the guys we have in the receiver room.
"I'm not going to be putting any extra pressure on myself. I'm just going to come out and be me."
Shepard has only improved since coming out of Oklahoma in 2016. Last season was his best year for Big Blue, totaling 872 yards on 66 receptions with four touchdowns. Add in his three rushes for 33 yards and Shepard totaled 905 yards from scrimmage. Eli Manning has found chemistry with Shepard from the get-go, and that trust was showcased on third downs when Shepard was constantly targeted to keep the drive going.
That trust was seconded by the Giants' front office when they gave Shepard a four-year extension worth $41 million. The extension not only solidifies Shepard as a pillar of the Giants' offense for years to come, but it also shows the team's faith that he can be a leader as well.
Shepard is well aware of that last fact.
"I'm the longest-tenured guy in the room, so I gotta make sure all the guys are in line," he said. :And I got Golden Tate with me. He's been around the game a long time, so he knows how things are supposed to be done."
Tate is Shepard's new partner in the wide receiving corps, and you can easily view him as Shepard with just more NFL experience. The two wideouts are eerily similar, possessing the same skillset and even the same height at 5-foot-10 on the stat sheet.
But who will be viewed as the No. 1 receiver in the end? Shepard has the upper hand being in head coach Pat Shurmur's scheme for a full season now. While he would love to be among the top receivers in the league in that top slot, Shepard knows as long as points go on the board, it doesn't matter who Manning throws to.
"I mean, that's the goal, but I'm really focused on the team and getting us back on the right track," he said. "The past few seasons isn't the way Giants football has been played in the past. That's my main focus, not really focused on personal stats. Just want to get this team rolling."
GM Dave Gettleman is hoping that his big changes this offseason aid in creating the culture he is looking for in his locker room. He believes that a good, team-first culture leads to wins, and that will be put to the test without Beckham, Landon Collins, and Olivier Vernon this season.
And Shepard can speak for the team in saying they are tired of losing. So there will be a chip on their shoulder entering the new year.
"Think there is a little bit of [a] chip on our shoulder. Like I said, this is not how Giants football has been played in the past and we want to get it back on the right track, so you kinda have to have a chip on your shoulder with that," he explained. "The way that last season went, it didn't go the way we wanted it to go. So, yeah, we do."