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Victor Cruz takes big step closer to return

Posted Jun 14, 2016

WR Victor Cruz participated in some team reps at minicamp practice: 

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Victor Cruz today took a step on his comeback trail that was both mundanely small and symbolically large.

Cruz participated in some individual drills and a small number of reps in a team walkthrough as the Giants opened a three-day mandatory minicamp today. That normally would not elicit excitement regarding a player who has 264 career receptions. But Cruz missed the entire 2015 season, and hasn’t caught a pass in a game in 20 months. The Giants have brought him along slowly after he underwent surgery on his calf last year. Cruz wasn’t expected to join his teammates on the field until training camp begins in six weeks. But …

“We felt it was time to take the next step,” coach Ben McAdoo said.

>> READ: STANDOUT PLAYERS

It wasn’t huge, but Cruz and the Giants will gladly accept any tangible progress.

“It was good to have Victor back in the fold,” McAdoo said. “(It was) another small step today. … Any time he has a chance to get out there and build chemistry with the quarterback, it’s a plus.”

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Cruz said. “I felt good and route running felt really good, so I just want to continue to take good steps forward.

“I’m pushing the issue every day, but (the athletic trainers) don’t necessarily take my word for it. But this was planned; I wanted to come out here and get a good workload in and take it a couple steps higher than what I’ve been doing the past couple weeks.”

All parties retain their optimism tinged with caution, because Cruz and the Giants traveled a similar path a year ago, and that ultimately led to nowhere. On Oct. 12, 2014, Cruz tore his patellar tendon in Philadelphia, costing him the final 10 games of the season. After an arduous rehabilitation, Cruz expected last year to regain his standing as one of Eli Manning’s go-to receivers. But he felt pain in his calf in training camp and never played in a game.

>> READ: MINICAMP PRACTICE REPORT

Cruz believes this re-start will be successful, though he’s reluctant to put a percentage on where he is now compared to his health before the injuries.

“Because that’ll be the headline tomorrow morning,” Cruz said. “So, I feel good. I’m just about there. I just have to continue to get the deeper routes and continue to build the route tree, so I can continue to gain the confidence with every route that I run. But I’m feeling good. I’m just about where I feel about 100 percent, so I’m just trying to continue that pace and continue to put the good days behind me, and continue to extend my route tree and see where it takes me.”

Asked if he’s convinced he’ll be ready when training camp opens late next month, Cruz said, “I am. That’s the plan, that’s how I feel, and that’s how the training staff is preparing me, so come July 28, the plan is definitely to continue on at full-go.”

Cruz said he didn’t think about the injuries on the field today, nor will he when the action ramps up in August.

“I can’t think about that stuff,” Cruz said. “I have to trust my body, and trust that the work I’ve put in has paid off. I just want to go out there and just run and not think about it or anything like that, because that’s when bad things happen. So I just want to put everything behind me, put it all out there on the field, and just continue to do my best.”

Cruz’s teammates, who have been supportive throughout his long comeback, were thrilled to see even his limited participation today.

“It was good to see Victor back out there on the field, and running routes and getting back out there in the mix a little bit,” Manning said. “So hopefully there is more to come and get him out there in some live action.”

When Odell Beckham Jr. was asked about Cruz, he broke out a wide smile.

“It’s been a long road,” Beckham said. “Him and I talk about it every single day. There is nobody who wants to be out there more than him. At the end of the day, this is what we’ve been doing since we were little. Nobody wants to stop now, and I know he’s got that chip on his shoulder. The talks every day are just patience - you know, the time is coming. I feel like he’s worked too hard to have any kind of setbacks now looking forward to August, where it really counts, and where we’re looking to have everybody back. I know he’s excited to be out there and I know it’s a hard line to get your opportunity to go and not try, and go a little bit more than you should. It’s just the competitive nature in us all. I remember I kind of did the same thing (when he had a hamstring injury as a rookie). I wanted to get back, and it’s just hard to be taken away from what you love and be out as long as he’s been out.”

Cruz still has many hurdles to clear before he’s declared fit to participate in the season opener on Sept. 11. But easing past the barrier he faced today clearly gave him a psychological boost.

“I think it’s just for my mindset and just for me to understand and know that I can still do what I’m accustomed to doing,” Cruz said. “That I can still run routes, that I still feel good, that I can make a sharp cut and everything feels the same and nothing hurts. So I think it was definitely a mental thing for me, and I’m happy we got a chance to do that.”