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Sterling Shepard in punt return mix vs. Jets despite Commanders muff

Sterling Shepard is in his eighth year with the Giants, and Sunday he returned a punt for the first time in his career.

Make that, he attempted to return a punt.

It looked like a harrowing experience for him, and it sounds like it was, as well.

“It was difficult, man,’’ Shepard said Wednesday after practice. “Punts ain’t an easy thing. My first time being back there, I definitely understood how those guys have to prepare for it and have an appreciation for it. Those guys catch a punt and everybody is just like, ‘Oh, that’s what you’re supposed to do.’ If something can goes wrong back there, it can cost you the game. Those guys, I really respect what they do.’’

It nearly cost the Giants a game.

Shepard was back on a punt return because rookie Eric Gray had muffed a punt and injured his calf.

Shepard allowed the first punt he saw from Tres Way to bounce.

In the third quarter, Shepard had trouble in the swirling wind, muffing a punt that was recovered by the Commanders on the Giants’ 21-yard line, helping Washington to its first and only touchdown.

Shepard and Way were together in college at Oklahoma in 2012, and Shepard said he noticed how difficult it was to track the ball off Way’s left foot.

Add in the element of the wind last weekend, and it made for a rough outing for Shepard, who, after the muff, was removed from punt return in favor of Darius Slayton.

“Definitely wasn’t the ideal day for my first debut back there,’’ Shepard said. “Yeah man, it was waving around back there for sure. It would start out to the right and end up all the way back on the left side of the field.“Unfortunately I didn’t come up with that one, still beating myself up about it. That’s the way the game goes.’’

Coach Brian Daboll said four players will be in contention for the punt-returner role: Slayton, Shepard, Adoree’ Jackson and Gunner Olszewski, who was signed Tuesday to the practice squad.

All but Jackson fielded punts during Wednesday’s practice.

Gray is on injured reserve.

There have been just two black QBs to start a game for the Giants — Geno Smith in 2017 and Tyrod Taylor the past two games subbing for the injured Daniel Jones.

Taylor, in the 14-7 victory over the Commanders, became the first black QB to win a game with the Giants.

In 2020, Taylor did the same with the Chargers.

“It means a lot,’’ Taylor said of the milestone with the Giants. “I didn’t know that going into it. If I’m not mistaken, I think I did it at another organization as well. But I mean it’s history. Proud to be part of it.’’

Daboll said he was made aware there were “some rumors out there’’ that the Giants would seek to move Saquon Barkley, with the NFL trade deadline set for Oct. 31.

So, Daboll said he approached Barkley last week before the Giants took the field for practice.

“So, I walked up to him at walk-through and said, ‘Yeah, that’s not happening,’ ” Daboll said. “That’s it.”

Nine players were limited in practice: LT Andrew Thomas (hamstring), C John Michael Schmitz (shoulder), RB Saquon Barkley (elbow), CB Adoree’ Jackson (neck), QB Daniel Jones (neck), RT Evan Neal (ankle), TE Darren Waller (hamstring), LB Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee) and K Graham Gano (left knee).

DT Leonard Williams was given a vet day off, and RB Gary Brightwell (hamstring) did not practice.