EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Tom Coughlin said today he believes Victor Cruz will return to play at a high level, he's excited about the Giants' offseason acquisitions and like everyone else, he is interested in who will step forward at safety.
The head coach covered a wide range of subjects during an hour-long news conference at the NFC coaches' breakfast at the NFL annual meeting in Phoenix.
Cruz, the Giants' record-setting wide receiver, played in just six games last season before suffering a torn patellar tendon in Philadelphia on Oct. 12. He underwent surgery and was placed on injured reserve. Cruz has been working out at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center and is confident he will return at full strength. So is Coughlin.
"I think he will be back to the player that he was and hopefully better," Coughlin said. "Victor looks really good, he's starting to run, I was in the field house watching him rehab, he's coming along well."
But the coach admitted he isn't certain when Cruz will be a full participant in practice.
"I don't know," he said. "I shouldn't say this, because medically I really do not have a definite answer, but by training camp, hopefully. He will work his way through."
That's exactly what the Giants must do at safety, where the Giants have just two players under contract - Cooper Taylor, who missed the entire 2014 season with a foot injury, and Nat Berhe, who played mostly on special teams as a rookie. Antrel Rolle signed with the Chicago Bears, and Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps are free agents.
"That's an issue, no doubt," Coughlin said. "We do have one more access to bringing in personnel with the draft. We have a couple of guys in the program - Berhe, who we liked as a rookie as a special teamer. We have injured players coming back who hopefully can help, but it's a concern."
Coughlin mentioned Chykie Brown and Bennett Jackson as cornerbacks who could potentially get a look at safety.
This month, the Giants have signed seven veteran free agents in running back Shane Vereen, wide receiver/return specialist Dwayne Harris, linebackers J.T. Thomas III and Jonathan Casillas, tackle Marshall Newhouse, defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis and defensive end George Selvie.
Photos of the players the Giants have signed this offseason
Coughlin believes Vereen, who caught 11 passes in New England's Super Bowl XLIX victory over Seattle, can be a multi-dimensional weapon out of the backfield.
"As a pass receiver coming out of the backfield, pass-protector, a guy who runs the ball in the three wide offense, the defensive run game if you will," Coughlin said. "A lot of the (Tom) Brady hook up with Vereen, the ball was almost automatically going to him. You know there would be certain first downs, if there was zone coverage, they would drop the ball off and he would scoot. So, we know that. Will we open it up to other parts of it? Well, we would like to make sure he can. He does very well at that spot.
"I really like the young man, he adds an experienced playmaker out of the backfield."
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Harris is a receiver who returns punts and kickoffs, had 33 special teams tackles in three years and was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week three times, a resume similar to former Giant David Tyree, who made the Pro Bowl in 2005 as a special teams player.
"Remember how we used to use Tyree?" Coughlin said. "He would come in and be a blocker. That's what Harris does. You see him on the field and you start thinking that way. And that part alone opens a lot of possibilities. Maybe you get back into the old fake, ghost screen stuff. So it just opens a lot of things up. Whether he becomes the third or fourth receiver or a special situation kind of player offensively, he wants to contribute on offense and he will be given that opportunity."
Coughlin said Harris' presence doesn't preclude Odell Beckham Jr. from returning punts.
"Even when you put Odell in that positon, you have to have others," Coughlin said. "Rueben (Randle) is a sure-handed guy who can play that spot. So Odell will still have to be available. Harris can't take every one. We would like him to, but the idea is that you have a guy with that ability to kick return, punt return, cover kicks, gunner and who is consistent. It has been a while since we have had that."
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Thomas and Casillas are both weakside linebackers who are outstanding special teams players.
"They will make contributions in both ways," Coughlin said. "Thomas played very well against us (for Jacksonville last Nov. 30). Quite frankly, there is no better info as you get ready looking into free agency than people that have done well against you.
"Both will get plenty of opportunities. There is just more information about Thomas in normal down and distance situations than there is on Casillas. But we know they are both special."
At defensive tackle, Coughlin is eager to evaluate Ellis (a 6-4, 346-punder who played for the Jets) and Dominique Hamilton (a 6-5, 315-punder who was signed off the practice squad on Dec. 2).
"Ellis is a big human," Coughlin said. "The young man on our practice squad, Hamilton, is a big human, so I am looking forward to seeing what they can do, too … We realized that big dominating guy in the middle is a good starting point for the D-line."
More offseason thoughts from Coughlin, who is preparing for his 12th season as the Giants' head coach:
- On what he expects from linebacker Devon Kennard, who played impressively as a rookie after being selected in the fifth round of the draft:
"A lot," Coughlin said. "If (Jon) Beason can come back and is healthy, then you have Kennard, who can be a stronger player."
- On third-year defensive end Damontre Moore:
"He has to make a contribution," Coughlin said. "He has the pass rush ability and special team play."
- On Steve Spagnuolo returning for a second stint as the team's defensive coordinator:
"There are going to be growing pains, without a doubt," Coughlin said. "I said with humor, but it wasn't very funny if you were there. Remember the first two games where we gave up a ton of points (80, in Spagnuolo's first season in 2007)? I said, 'We don't have to start out that way, do we?' It's a whole different circumstance and a whole different situation. There are certain things that you know. You're going to get a guy who has tremendous energy, tremendous enthusiasm, very optimistic, very positive. Players love to work with him, you know all of that part. He's very accommodating, competitive. So you know what you are going to get."
Photos of the Giants 2015 official roster