It is, Sterling Shepard admits, “still a little weird” and “an adjustment.’’
Of course it is.
As much as players are often viewed as interchangeable parts, some are missed more than others, based on the personality they exude and the aura they emote. To wit: Odell Beckham Jr. dons orange and brown and works in Cleveland. He is gone but not forgotten around the Giants.
“Just his presence,’’ Shepard said recently. “He’s a great guy, he’s loved around this facility. Just his presence, I guess.”
That presence is noticeably absent here, there and everywhere inside the Giants’ team facility, as Beckham’s energy lit up the building the way a generator kicks in and keeps things humming during a power outage. It is felt most palpably in the wide receivers’ room.
“Odell’s a funny guy, great teammate to be around,’’ said Cody Latimer, who signed with the Giants last year and re-signed for the 2019 season. “Always bringing energy, fun, excitement, always something every day. We got the same thing with Russell Shepard. He’s very vocal, as everybody in the world knows. He was always our really, really vocal guy and he’s still around.
“Everybody’s stepping up. Sterling’s more aggressive, he’s leading us. Everybody’s doing their part.’’
Indeed, Russell Shepard — another newcomer in 2018 re-signed this offseason — is a vocal sparkplug, directing trash talk toward the defense in practice. The acquisition of safety Jabrill Peppers in the trade that sent Beckham to the Browns has become a counter to Russell Shepard’s verbal salvos.
“I love it,’’ veteran safety Michael Thomas told The Post. “We needed somebody on the defensive side to match Russell Shepard.’’
Barely more than 24 hours after the Beckham deal became official, the Giants signed Golden Tate to a four-year contract worth $37.5 million. Tate and rookie Darius Slayton, taken in the fifth round of the draft, are the two newcomers in a receiver group that brings back Sterling Shepard, Russell Shepard, Latimer, Corey Coleman and Bennie Fowler.
Tate is entering his 10th NFL season and has already made an impression with his attention to detail and confident, professional demeanor. No one player is capable of replacing Beckham’s production or his jaw-dropping physical ability.
The Giants were proactive in giving Sterling Shepard a four-year contract extension worth $41 million. He was and remains Beckham’s close friend and confidant, saying Beckham is “always going to be my brother until the end of this.’’ Shepard laughed and danced with Beckham, but never become an Odell clone and is primed to accept increased ownership of his position group and the entire offense.
“Yeah, I think that’s just naturally what’s going to happen,’’ Shepard said. “He was such a big part of this offense. I guess I’m the next one up in line.’’
Shepard is naturally animated on the field, even more so this spring.
“He always has that dog in him, you see his aggression, how he plays, he brings it every day in practice,’’ Latimer said. “He’s gonna be loud and hyped cheering his boys on, pushing us. I’ve seen the growth. He’s still young. And he got a nice deal too, oh yeah, he’s about to do some amazing things this year.’’
Beckham was targeted an average of 10.5 times a game in his 59 games with the Giants, and those throws must get divided up elsewhere. Figure Sterling Shepard’s opportunities increase.
“I feel like last season with Odell going out for those last [four] games kind of prepared me for what I was going to get into,’’ Shepard said. “The season before that as well with him going down with an ankle injury. I feel like it prepared me for this moment.”
Shepard, Tate and tight end Evan Engram figure to command the bulk of the attention when Eli Manning is scanning the field. Without Beckham, though, a sense of shared wealth has unquestionably been fostered and embraced.
“Anybody can get the ball,’’ Latimer said. “You’re open, you don’t get it, that means somebody else is getting it and you’re hoping they make a play. We got an unselfish room in there. We don’t really care or actually don’t talk about it at all, who’s getting the ball.
“It’s a group effort. The group can be dominant, period.’’
Rich “Big Daddy” Salgado , president of Coastal Advisors LLC, which writes insurance policies and does financial planning for many NFL players, will hold his fifth Big Daddy Youth Football Camp — 5-7:30 p.m., Monday-Wednesday at New Hyde Park High School on Long Island, where he played offensive line before receiving a scholarship to Maryland.
Among players expected to attend include Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu, Patriots safety Devin McCourty, former Jets coach Eric Mangini, Bills defensive coach (and Rich’s brother) Jim Salgado and NFL Network (and former NFL player) Brian Baldinger.
The camp is open to children in grades 1-8. The camp costs $125. For additional information, visit bigdaddyfootball.com.