EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Victor Cruz is one of the NFL’s very best receivers, a maestro when he’s working from the slot.
Their daily duels in practice have been one of the highlights of the Giants’ training camp.
“He’s a good player,” Cruz said. “He’s physical, he likes to get his hands on you, so it’s a good test for me to have as a precursor to what I’m going to battle and face each and every Sunday when the season starts.”
“He’s one of the best slot receivers in the NFL,” Thurmond said. “It’s good to always go against someone who is elite in their craft at that position, because it makes every other game easier.”
Cruz and Thurmond battle each other every day in one-on-one drills and seven-on-seven and team periods in practice. Their personal combat never gets nasty, but it is physical and it is spirited. Neither player is willing to concede on even one snap.
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“We’re competing out there,” said Thurmond, who signed with the Giants as a free agent on March 16 after spending his first four pro seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. “We have to push each other, because he’s going to see one of the best slot corners in the game as well. It helps him out to be able to go against myself and vice versa, to be able to progress ourselves when we play different opponents during the year.
Is Thurmond a more physical corner than Cruz is accustomed to facing in practice?
“I guess he’s just more adamant about it,” Cruz said. “That’s one of his strengths. He’s definitely using that to his advantage, because he knows that’s one of his strengths, getting his hands on and being physical. I guess, for the most part, he’s the most physical I’ve faced.”
Although that’s a big part of their daily interaction, their dual preparation is more than just exerting strength.
“Even if I don’t get the ball,” Cruz said, “he’ll ask me what kind of route it was, was it an option route, whatever the case may be and I may ask him, ‘What coverage was that? Was that just man or was it two-man,’ or whatever the case may be. We talk constructively. He’s a good dude, too, so we’re always talking, whether it is about football or not.”
Cruz and Thurmond faced each other just once as opponents. On Oct. 9, 2011, Cruz caught eight passes for 161 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown, vs. the Seahawks in MetLife Stadium. Thurmond made one of his three starts that season, at left cornerback, and had three tackles, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. Seattle won, 36-25. Thurmond was serving an NFL suspension when the Seahawks visited MetLife last Dec. 15.
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Each player brings impressive credentials, including matching Super Bowl rings, to their daily duals. Cruz has averaged 80.3 receptions, 1,208 yards and more than five touchdowns over the last three seasons. He scored a touchdown in the Giants’ victory over New England in Super Bowl XLVI.
Thurmond played in 34 games with eight starts in Seattle, where he earned a reputation as one of the NFL’s most physical cornerbacks. Last season, he was a key member of the brash and punishing Seattle secondary that helped Seattle roll to a 13-3 record and a 43-8 demolition of Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII – in MetLife.
“Having Walter here is a huge plus and a huge asset for our defense,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “He’s a phenomenal player. Not just nickel back, but a player. You talk about special teams, you talk about just being a corner on the boundary and being a slot/nickel. He can do it all. More importantly, his intellect with the game. That’s something I learned about Walter. Within OTAs, his knowledge and intellect of the game was very, very high and is someone I can definitely relate to on and off the field.
“I think he’s a guy that wants to be the best. You go out there and ask him ‘Who’s the best nickel back in the game?’ he’s going to say himself. But if you ask him if he’s satisfied with being nickel, he’s going to tell you ‘no.’ That’s the kind of attitude we need and the kind of player we need on the field with us at all times.”
He’ll get no argument from Cruz, who has spent more time near Thurmond than anyone in camp.
“He’s definitely top tier at what he does and I consider myself in the tops at what I do.” Cruz said. “To have that battle each and every day at practice is great. It’s great for our mentality, it’s great for our confidence to go up against each other. We know that if we can do some good things against each other, we’ll have some success when the season starts.”