Strong Giants showing versus Browns comes even with key players out

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BEREA, Ohio — Players, and especially coaches, usually insist the focus should be on who is on the field, rather than who is not. Even when it is oh, so tempting to obsess about who is not there, but soon might be.

After the Giants put together an impressive red-zone showing Friday on Day 2 of their joint practice with the Browns, Sterling Shepard — who contributed mightily to the touchdowns accumulated on offense — could not help himself. He broke the code and, unsolicited, pointed out the reinforcements that should be coming ’round the bend.

Yes, Shepard liked the work in the red zone.

“Yeah, and we don’t even have some of our pieces,’’ Shepard said afterward on a sunny and hot afternoon. “You put KG [Kenny Golladay] out there, who is a big red-zone threat, and you got Kyle Rudolph as well to pair up with Evan [Engram]. I feel we made a good step. Got to continue to keep taking steps forward.’’

The steps figure to be more baby than gargantuan until the talent standing on the sideline makes its way onto the field. Golladay, the big-ticket signing in free agency, remains out with a strained hamstring. Rookie Kadarius Toney, the first-round pick, has an undisclosed injury but is expected back soon. Saquon Barkley continues to be brought along in an evenly-paced manner coming off reconstructive knee surgery. Rudolph, the veteran tight end, signed mainly because he has 40 red-zone touchdowns from his time with the Vikings, is coming off foot surgery, remains on the physically unable to perform list and is looking more and more likely to stay there and miss the first six games to start the season.

Darius Slayton catches a pass during the Giants practice against the Browns on Friday.
AP

The healthy Giants targets had some good moments Thursday working against the Browns, but considerably more of them a day later. The two-minute drill to end both sessions was ugly — Daniel Jones was intercepted to end things on Day 1 and he was deemed to have been sacked on fourth down to end Friday’s work. The Giants this summer put extensive time into their red-zone efficiency, and that aspect of their attack was in good shape Friday.

“I think that certainly helped us,’’ Jones said of the red-zone emphasis in training camp. “Those are plays we repped a lot and got different looks against and then to get completely different looks here coming against another team. So I thought we did a good job executing, there’s certain things we got to clean up still but it’s definitely helpful to have those reps and then get out here.’’

Jones hit Shepard for a touchdown early in the red-zone period. There might have been another one on a pass to Shepard in the end zone that was not completed, but there was a flag on Browns rookie safety Greg Newsome II. On one of his best-looking plays, Jones made a hard roll to his right and on the move fired back into the middle of the field, finding Alex Bachman for a touchdown. C.J. Board, getting increased snaps with so many receivers out, took advantage of the extra work with several catches in the middle of the field.

The Giants were 31st in the NFL in 2020 in scoring touchdowns in the red zone, cashing in only 46 percent of the time.

After the first practice against the Browns, head coach Joe Judge said he was pleased with the way Jones operated.

“I thought he did a really good job handling pressure, being efficient and getting the ball out on time, throwing accurate passes, really facilitating the offense and keeping it moving in the early down situation work,’’ Judge said.

Jones was better Friday.

“I like the way the guys competed overall,’’ Shepard said. “Everybody came with the juice and that’s all you can ask for.’’

It figures to be considerably better when the Giants finally get their full complement of offensive playmakers on the field.

“I talk to ’em every day,’’ Shepard said. Those guys are eager and can’t wait to get back out there. Can’t wait to see those guys in live action.’’

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