Despite injuries, Giants receivers have looked solid so far

Patricia Traina

East Rutherford, N.J. -- The Giants won’t have Corey Coleman, who tore his ACL on the second day of training camp, for the season.

You can also probably forget about seeing Sterling Shepard until the September 8 regular-season opener, just as you can forget about seeing Golden Tate for the first four games of the regular season if his league-imposed suspension is upheld.

The silver lining in all this darkness has been the play of the Giants “no-name” receivers—guys like Russell Shepard, T.J. Jones, Bennie Fowler, and Cody Latimer.

This group of young journeymen combined to catch all 12 of their pass targets in last week’s preseason-opening win against the Jets, while also contributing six of the Giants’ 15 first downs gained via the passing game.

“All of those guys are pros,” head coach Pat Shurmur said earlier in camp.

“You remember the Hank Basketts and the Jason Avants in the early years in Philly. Those guys were going to be on the roster, and they were excellent special teams players. Then they made plays in the passing game as well. It’s important that our receivers have an impact on special teams, and those guys certainly do that. That’s a good thing.”

Shepard has quietly emerged as a leader of the Giants new and more professional locker room that Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman desired.

Primarily a core special teams ace last season, Shepard also contributed ten receptions for 188 yards and two touchdowns last year, with seven of his receptions going for first downs.

Jones is another of the Giants “no-name” receivers who has grabbed the attention of the coaches. Jones was a late addition to the Giants training camp roster, signing on July 27 after Coleman was lost for the season.

Jones, who played his first four seasons with the Lions where he caught 64 passes for 814 yards and four touchdowns, led the Giants receivers last week against the Jets by catching all six of his pass targets for 72 yards and 1 touchdown, and tying teammate Fowler with the most first-down conversions (2) among the Giants receiving targets in that game.

“He did a very nice job,” Shurmur said. “He’s a young player but experienced. When he was out there playing, it was obvious that he knew what to do. He obviously has the ability to make plays.”

Fowler, who joined the Giants last year after the team put Latimer on injured reserve, is another former Broncos receiver, the connection there being Tyke Tolbert, the Giants receivers coach who was also with the Broncos during Fowler’s time there.

Last season, Fowler contributed 16 receptions for 199 yards and one touchdown in 10 games, five of which were starts.

Against the Jets, Fowler graded out as the Giants’ top receiver in all things (receiving and blocking) and had the third-best rating when targeted (147.9).

“He’s a guy that can play all of the positions,” Shurmur said of Fowler.

“Typically, he plays outside, but there are times where he’ll be in the slot. He’s smart, he has good instincts, he picks things up quickly. You saw that we’ve had some receiver injuries within practice, and he’s been able to go from being X to Z and Z to X. That flexibility is important.”

Latimer, who got the starting nod with Sterling Shepard sidelined with a broken thumb, has looked particularly smooth working with quarterbacks Eli Manning and Daniel Jones.

Acquired as an unrestricted free agent last year after spending his first four seasons with Denver, Latimer appeared in the team’s first three games, where he had three catches for 56 yards before a hamstring injury landed him on injured reserve.

Still, the Giants thought enough of Latimer to bring him back off injured reserve later in the season.

The receiver appeared in the Giants’ final two games of 2018, making one start, and caught five passes for 82 yards and one touchdown.

“Cody is probably one of our most veteran receivers,” Shurmur said. “I think he shows that out there.

He knows how to practice. He knows how to compete. He has a unique ability to make a play down the field. I think he does a good job.

“There are times when he can get behind the (corner), and he’s open. But then there are other times when he’s in a contested situation where he can make a play on the ball. That’s hugely valuable when you’re a wideout.”