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Victor Cruz becomes mentor to undrafted WRs

Posted Aug 7, 2014

WR Victor Cruz understands the journey that current undrafted wide receivers Marcus Harris and Corey Washington are attempting

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Victor Cruz made it big in the NFL the hard way, and he has an affinity for players who attempt to follow his path.

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An undrafted free agent from the University of Massachusetts, a school well below the college football aristocracy, Cruz has been a Super Bowl champion and a Pro Bowler and is widely regarded as one of the league’s elite wide receivers.

Cruz has become a confidant and mentor to a pair of young receivers – Marcus Harris and Corey Washington - who are attempting to follow his footsteps from free agent to final roster with the Giants.

Harris, 6-1 and 191 pounds, played at Murray State and since 2011 has been with Detroit, Tennessee and the Giants without playing a regular-season game. He spent most of the 2013 season on the Giants’ practice squad.

Washington, the team’s tallest receiver at 6-4, played two seasons at Georgia Military College and two at Newberry College in South Carolina, which is far below even UMass on the collegiate food chain. This spring, he was signed and waived within 15 days by the Arizona Cardinals and awarded to the Giants.

The Giants still have four preseason games remaining, but each youngster is forcing the coaches to take notice. Harris caught a team-high four passes for 49 yards, including a 25-yarder, in the Giants’ 17-13 victory over Buffalo in the Hall of Fame Game. He got some first-team reps in practice yesterday.

“I think Marcus Harris, from the game he had and streaming into practice, he’s been really taking advantage of his opportunities,” Cruz said. “He’s really coming to the forefront here as a good player. We’ll see how it goes, but he’s definitely one of the guys that’s standing out.”
 
Washington had just one catch, but it was the biggest of the game. On the fourth play of the final quarter, the Giants faced a second-and-14 from their own 27. Ryan Nassib threw down the field for Washington, who leaped up and reached over cornerback Michael Carter. He landed on the 28-yard line, turned and sprinted up the right sideline to complete the 73-yard touchdown.

“It was amazing,” Cruz said. “I almost jumped out of my skin on the sideline. But that’s a play he’s made two or three times out in practice. It’s good to see that carry over to the game, that same type of ability and concentration that you need to have to make a play like that. Hopefully, he has more up his sleeve.”
The last Giants receiver to debut so spectacularly in the preseason was Cruz, whose 64-yarder was the first of three touchdown receptions vs. the Jets on Aug. 16, 2010, in the first game in MetLife Stadium. Cruz played in just three games and did not catch a pass as a rookie, but in the last three seasons, the receiver no team drafted has 241 receptions and scored 23 touchdowns.

“The Victor Cruz story motivated me,” Washington said. “Small guy, he came from a small school, on the verge of getting cut, he made some plays and now he’s the veteran of the wide receiver corps. He’s making a lot of money, he’s making plays.”

It will take more plays like the one last week for Washington to overcome the odds and earn a spot on the final roster.

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“I told him he has very little room for error,” Cruz said. “He needs to catch everything that comes his way. He needs to know the playbook inside and out, and he just needs to go out there and perform every day and know what he’s doing. He shouldn’t have any mental errors. Technique things are good because you can correct those, but you can’t have any drops, you can’t have any mental errors when you’re a rookie free agent. You have to really come with you’re ‘A’ game. That’s hard to do. There’s still a lot that he has to learn, but so far so good for him.”

Since it was Cruz who delivered the message, it’s certain that Washington took it to heart.

“Victor Cruz is like a big brother to me,” Washington said. “He said, ‘This is your chance, you go out there and show these boys what you’ve got and give them a hard time making a decision once cut time comes.’”

Harris is also grateful for the support he has received from Cruz.

“It’s a great thing to have a guy like that because he knows exactly where we’re coming from because he was us before. It’s just like a big ego boost because – he’s a great friend, don’t get me wrong – but he’s also a great person to look up to. I respect him a lot for it.”

Harris also has drawn praise from the head coach.

“He is a tough kid,” Tom Coughlin said. “He has some nicks but he is out there every day, he works hard at it, he can go on special teams, he caught the ball well yesterday, as you saw, and he is usually in the right spot.”

He was in a good place yesterday, when he lined up with the starters and caught passes from Eli Manning.

“I don’t feel pressure, because in the league I’m a professional receiver,” Harris said. “I believe it’s expected that if I’m with the ones, I expect to play like the ones. But it felt really good. It helped my mindset a lot. Being undrafted and being on the practice squad last year, being able to get the shot to run with the ones is very important to me.”

The challenge for both Harris and Washington is to continue their fine play this month so they have a chance to be Giants in September.

“I came from a small school, I’m the underdog right now,” Washington said. “I have to go out there and make plays. These preseason games are important for small school guys like me. That’s my chance to show the coaches what I have, so I can make the 53-man roster and hopefully help New York get back on top, get to the Super Bowl.”

He’s from a small school, but Corey Washington, like Marcus Harris, clearly has big dreams.

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