During the New Meadowlands Stadium opener against the Jets, Eli Manning went down with a three-inch gash on his head late in the second quarter of the first preseason game. But from then on out, Cruz was the headliner.
The undrafted New Jersey native broke loose under the lights of Monday Night Football for three touchdowns on six catches for 145 yards.
His first reception in a professional uniform came on a 64-yard score, leaving the Jets' quotable linebacker Bart Scott to say after the game, "I don't even know who No. 3 is. But he looked like Randy Moss out there with those three touchdowns."
Heading into the 2010 training camp, Cruz was already a fan favorite because of his ties to the area as a graduate of Paterson Catholic High School before playing at UMass. But that game brought his name to a new level among fans and coaches alike. Cruz went on to finish the preseason with an NFL-best 297 yards and four touchdowns, which was enough to fulfill his dream of making the 53-man roster.
However, the preseason sensation dimmed when the six-foot, 204-pound receiver tweaked his hamstring. After being active for just three of the Giants' first four games, he was placed on injured reserve and his name simmered on the backburner until training camp rolled around again.
Sporting a new No. 80 jersey, Cruz picked up where he left off – blowing up Twitter feeds when he makes a big play during practice.
"The fans have a lot of love for me, and I love them back," Cruz said. "It's mainly because, you know, I'm a hometown guy and these fans are great. They love you when you're winning. They got my back, and I definitely feel that."
Still drawing the crowds a year later, Cruz now has a legitimate shot at seeing significant playing time. Like all second-year players, Cruz said he feels a lot more comfortable this time around and can read defenses better to adjust his routes.
A lot of that help has come from Eli Manning.
In addition to getting more reps on the first team, Cruz and the rest of the receivers receive constant coaching from Manning.
"It's been a lot of progression since last year I really didn't get a lot of reps with "E" because I was third team," Cruz said. "But this year, I'm getting a lot more stuff from him. And he's kind of guiding me along. Every route I come back and he's talking to me, telling me what he sees, where he would throw the ball, what's he looking at on certain defenses. So it's been a good progression with him. He's very vocal and I like that."
The first preseason game is hours away and Cruz just wants to go out and play within the system.
"I just want to go out there and just play my game," Cruz said of Saturday's game against Carolina. "Hopefully I can get in the end zone a few times, have a few catches and make a few guys miss. But all in all, I just want to play my game."