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Giants' Brian Daboll on Sterling Shepard's return, first catch since ACL tear: 'It was good for him'

Among the other promising moments the Giants offense exhibited in Friday's preseason contest was the 2023 debut of Sterling Shepard, marking the wide receiver's first game action since suffering a season-ending ACL injury last September.

Shepard's appearance in New York's 21-19 win over the Panthers was limited, as he tallied one reception for six yards and a first down, but that single catch was notable as a benchmark in the pass-catcher's return from recent injuries. Not only was Shepard able to make a contribution early on, but he was also able to take a hit post-catch, with head coach Brian Daboll pointing out that getting over both of those hurdles early can be a relief for players coming back from injury, even if Shepard approached the moment as "business as usual."

"It's good when you are coming back from that, you know, the history that he's had the last couple of years. It was good for him." Daboll said, via team transcript. "But he's such a good teammate and such a competitor. I'm always checking with him, how's he doing on the sideline, are you good to go and he's competitive as always."

Shepard had been a consistent contributor on the Giants offense since being drafted by the team in 2016, averaging just over 700 receiving yards in each of his first five years and over 10 yards per catch in all but one of those years.

But then in 2021 his starts and stats totals both went down, as he was inactive for seven games before then tearing his Achilles in Week 15. Though Shepard was able to recover and return for the start of the next season, he tore his ACL in just Week 3 of the 2022 campaign and lost another year to injury. Over the past two seasons the WR has played in 10 games (eight starts) and collected only 520 receiving yards.

"You have such empathy for the players in this game because there's always nicks and bruises, but then there's injuries and some of them are bad," Daboll said. "Some of them have long recovering injuries and you don't really get to see behind the scenes of the work ethic that they put in, the grind, how hard it is to come back from one of those and then another one and you're out there by yourself, you meet with the trainers and you're kind of away from the team and then you come back and you start slowly integrating."

With the leg problems supposed to be behind him 11 months post-ACL injury, the 30-year-old Shepard now has the opportunity to once again make a contribution in a Giants offense which ranked near the bottom of the league in passing, despite their playoff appearance. And that effort started Friday with his first plays back with his teammates.

"It's extremely impressive," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "He's worked really hard to get back and yeah, he's been a big-time player for us these past few years when he's been healthy. He's worked hard to get back and made a lot of plays in practice and then looked good tonight, too. So, it's extremely impressive."

Shepard's next stop as he continues building his way back will be New York's final preseason game next Saturday, Aug. 26 versus the Jets, before the games start counting in September.

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