NY Giants WR Russell Shepard talks about the significance of six seasons’ worth of security tags on his backpack with regard to his NFL journey.
Art Stapleton, Staff Writer, @art_stapleton
Giants wide receiver Russell Shepard carries six seasons of NFL memories on his backpack.
EAST RUTHERFORD — Russell Shepard got the backpack from the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl, the final game of his college career at LSU.
He started in the six years since in an NFL career that started as an undrafted free agent and ultimately landed him with the New York Giants this season after time with three other franchises.
The bag represents how far Shepard has come in that journey, as do the more than 80 security tags from every game in which he has played as a professional.
And the significance of those is not lost on Shepard, who has carved out a niche as one of the more underappreciated leaders for the Giants (5-8) as they have rebounded from a woeful first half, winning four of five games following the bye and keeping their faint playoff hopes alive heading into Sunday’s showdown against the Titans at MetLife Stadium.
“Coming out of the draft, being kinda broke as an undrafted free agent, it was kinda the only bag I really had to carry my cleats and other stuff in,” Shepard said. “Once I officially made the team, I brought the bag to a game and they put a [security] tag on it. So really, being a dumb rookie, not really paying attention, the next week I came and they put another tag on it, and another tag on it.”
By the end of that first September in the league, Shepard had the makings of a tradition.
“I missed the final game of my college career, and that’s where the bag came from,” he added. “Now, every tag represents something positive, every game I’ve been in my post-college career. It’s something that pushes me every day to keep going … and it’s a constant reminder of how nobody’s safe.”
Shepard could wind up starting at wide receiver Sunday in place of his college teammate, Odell Beckham Jr., who continues to nurse a quad injury and missed last Sunday’s 40-16 victory over the Redskins. He’s also a special teams stalwart.
At 28, Shepard has figured out how to stick in the NFL.
When Carolina granted his release request in May after team brass asked him to take a pay cut, Shepard found his way to the Giants rather quickly. His connection with Giants general manager Dave Gettleman is only one of numerous ties to the organization.
Shepard credits Giants coach Pat Shurmur for being one of those who encouraged him to not lose faith in his quest to stick in the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of LSU. They were together for several months in Philadelphia when Shurmur was the offensive coordinator for Chip Kelly in 2013.
The presence of Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey was also a factor in his decision, considering McGaughey is the one who convinced Shepard back at LSU — where he was also his special teams coach — to commit to a role on punt and kickoff teams during his transition from quarterback to running back and then receiver.
“There are a lot of people here who are on my side that I feel comfortable with,” Shepard said.
Playing time at receiver was difficult to come by with eventual NFL draft picks Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Rueben Randle ahead of him on the depth chart in college. Shepard reinvented himself, becoming a special teams fiend who readily acknowledged that was his only path to the league.
“I know who I am, what role I play and why I’m in this league,” Shepard said this summer. “I’m like a unicorn — I’ve got more tackles that matter than catches in this league. Majority of the time, when you have receivers and it comes to being involved in special teams, they’re returners. I’m kind of the opposite: I’m a front line blocker on kickoff return, I’m an edge rusher on punt return, I’m a gunner on punt team, on kickoff I’m an inside five, so I’m doing the gritty work in all four phases. I know what my role has to be in order for me to have a place on this team.”
Shepard has scored touchdowns in consecutive games, catching Beckham’s 49-yard scoring strike against the Bears and then an 11-yarder from Eli Manning last week. He was also involved in a remarkable tip drill in punt coverage when he batted a kick from Riley Dixon out of the end zone and back into the field of play, where Antonio Hamilton did the same, allowing Zak DeOssie to down the ball at the 2.
“The culture is shifting,” Shepard said. “We’re learning how to win. You want to see everybody contribute. You want to see everybody’s hard work pay off. When you see guys having success and having fun, that’s important. I believe Odell is a top-five player in this league and when you don’t have that type of guy making plays and drawing attention, you have to step up and the team across the board stepped up.”
Shepard has certainly upped his game, and his teammates have been taking notice.
“The guy is one of the realist out there,” Beckham said. “He can do so many things well, and beyond that, his personality is so unique, everybody loves being around him, having him on this team. In terms of what he’s able to bring to the game on and off the field, I’d say he’s one of a kind, and I mean that. He’s earned his place on this team, and everyone just really respects his game.”
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