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Victor Cruz takes another big step toward return

Posted Jul 29, 2016

Victor Cruz participated in the Giants’ first training camp practice Friday: 

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – After catching a pass from a high school quarterback on a deserted field at a Division III college, Victor Cruz was convinced he would return to the Giants as a wide receiver who thrills millions of fans.
 
As any loyal Giants fan knows, Cruz did not play last season and was limited to six games the previous two years, first by a torn patellar tendon and then because of a calf injury. His comeback has been an arduous slog. Because the Giants held him out of spring drills, his triumphs were mostly small and imperceptible. Cruz enjoyed no major breakthroughs – until early this month, during a workout at which he was the sole Giants player.

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It was held at William Paterson University, close to both his boyhood and current homes. Cruz was catching passes from Tommy DeVito, who is entering his senior season as the quarterback at New Jersey high school powerhouse Don Bosco Prep.

“I think it was the first day we were running routes,” Cruz said today. “We had done a lot of stuff indoors where I train -- lateral movements, changing speeds, all of that good stuff. But I hadn’t run routes, and I hadn’t run that full speed, stop, cut, left. So that first day we ran routes and I made a cut, an in-cut; I think it was the one I posted on Instagram, where I made an in-cut. I jumped and got the ball and came down and ran. That felt pretty good. I didn’t have any pain or setback and I ran after the catch. That’s when I felt like, ‘I’m back, I can do some things and I can go out there and be effective.’”

Cruz today took another significant step toward the regular season when he participated in the Giants’ first training camp practice. The workout did not include a team period, but Cruz participated in individual, position, and offensive drills.

“Day one was pretty good,” Cruz said. “I got to knock the rust off a little bit and run some routes and things like that, so it felt pretty good.”   

Asked what it was like from an emotional standpoint, Cruz said, “It was great. I was just happy to be out here with the guys, running around doing some drills. I was doing some tackling drills for the first time in a long time, so that was fun.”
 
Cruz’s coaches and teammates were happy to have him back on the field, but they understand he has to catch up in terms of his physical conditioning and his mastery of Ben McAdoo’s offense, which has developed since Cruz last played on Oct. 12, 2014.

“That's why we need him out there practicing,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “He had a training camp, six games of that season, he's been around that offense, he's been in meetings. Last year through training camp and through the season, he's been involved; he just hasn't played in a football game in a long time. So we just got to get him back to making plays, making catches. It's different when you're catching balls from a JUGS machine, rather than in here. You got one-on-one, you got to run a route, you got to make a tight catch. We just got to get him back to making football plays again.”

“Victor is in the flow of practice,” McAdoo said. “Like all of our players, we’re going to monitor them, but he’s out here practicing and chomping at the bit, ready to go.”

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It’s likely no one was more thrilled by Cruz’s return than Odell Beckham Jr. When OBJ was drafted two years ago, the Giants envisioned Cruz and him forming perhaps the NFL’s most dynamic receiving duo. But while Beckham has been otherworldly by himself, they teamed up for just six quarters before Cruz went down. Today, they practiced together for the first time since last August.

“It just feels right,” Beckham said. “We’ve been waiting for him for a long time. I know he’s been excited to get back out there. It’s all a process right now to just try and stay the course, and I look forward to being able to take the field with him.”

Beckham knows the unpleasant feeling of not being able to play because of injury. He missed the entire preseason and the first four games of his 2014 Rookie of the Year season with a hamstring injury. During his absence, Beckham was counseled by Cruz to work hard in rehab and be patient. In the last year, those roles have been reversed, and it’s Beckham who has encouraged Cruz.

“One thousand percent, he still does,” Cruz said. “Even today, he came up to me and was like, ‘How are you feeling?’ I go, ‘I feel good,’ and he goes, ‘I like that, but you know what I’m going to say.’ I know. He reminds me of Sept. 11 (the date of the regular-season opener in Dallas) every single time. But this year, he’s definitely served as that person to keep my head on straight, making sure that I’m focused on the real task at hand, not to overwork myself and to understand that these days are going to come, and that there’s going to be good days and bad days, but make sure that I’m striving and continuing to make progressions and strive forward.”

“I think we encourage each other,” Beckham said. “It’s not just him and I, but everyone in the (receivers) group. But for me, I remember when I was hurt and he was telling me and giving me advice to stay patient, and then it was vice-versa. So it’s just tough when you love this game and it’s taken away from you. So for him right now, the biggest thing is patience and knowing when exactly it’s time to turn it on fully, knowing the season starts on Sept. 11. Not to say the rest is irrelevant, but that’s when everything is go.”

Cruz said he does not think about the calf when he steps on the practice field.

“I can’t even make myself think about it,” he said. “I just go out there and play. I’ve reached a point where I’ve been through so much in two years, so many ups and so many downs, that my body is intact, my body is fully healthy, my legs feel fully healthy. I’ve been lifting and jumping. I just want to go out there and put it all behind me and let go and just let God take care of the rest.

“Every day forward is another hurdle. Every day that I’m lined up and ready to go out there is another hurdle. I just want to make sure I’m putting those good days forward, putting them behind me, and just taking it from there, so tomorrow will be another challenge.”