Shortly after he fractured his left thumb July 25, Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard was steadfast in his belief that he would return for the Sept. 8 opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
More than three weeks later, Shepard's outlook remains optimistic.
Seen without his non-contact yellow jersey Sunday afternoon at Giants practice -- the first time since the injury -- Shepard showed further signs of progression as he works back for the 2019 season.
"It's not an issue, I felt good," said Shepard, who added that he wears a hard pad underneath his glove on the injured hand. "I'm doing everything that the trainers are telling me to do. We are on pace for where we want to be."
Shepard said he received clearance from doctors to remove his non-contact jersey, a move head coach Pat Shurmur described as "the next step in the process."
Despite his limitations throughout the previous weeks of practice and training camp, Shepard stayed heavily involved in the first-team offense, catching fastballs from quarterback Eli Manning while he ran routes against Giants defensive backs.
"He's been cleared all along to be out here, as we all saw," said Shurmur, who added that the Giants believe Shepard will "absolutely" be read for week one.
The 5-foot-10, 201-pound Shepard has watched from the sidelines at MetLife Stadium while the Giants went through the first two weeks of the preseason -- last Thursday's 31-22 win over the Jets and Friday's 32-13 victory against the Chicago Bears.
As the Giants have shuffled several others into action -- Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler and Russell Shepard among the wide receivers -- Sterling Shepard has kept his early-September return date in mind.
"If I could go, I would be going," Shepard 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."
Corey Coleman's season-ending ACL injury and Golden Tate's four-game suspension add to Shepard's importance in the Giants' early-season rotation of receivers.
Given the need for Shepard in the Giants' offense for the opener and beyond, the latest update on the fourth-year pro's path back is promising.
"I don't see anything that can hold me back right now, unless something was to happen in practice," Shepard said. "I'm on pace.
"At first, I was a little bit nervous. I thought it was going to be a little bit longer than it's taken. It's actually healed up pretty fast and like I said, I'm feeling good."