EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. are reprising a college partnership in the NFL, and how well it succeeds will be a significant determinant in the fate of the Giants' season.
"I definitely didn't think that when I first got here that it would eventually turn out to this," Randle said. "But it's a great feeling to have him on the other side of me. It's unfortunate, the situation that happened to Victor, but we've got to be able to step it up now, go out there and do some of the things we did at LSU."
Beckham is quick to point out that the quarterback who will throw him and Randle passes, Eli Manning, was raised in New Orleans and preceded him at the Isidore Newman School.
"I went to the same high school as Eli and played ball with Rueben in college," Beckham said. "It's like we all know each other, in a way."
The Giants need the trio to put points on the board. They lost their most productive and experienced receiver when Cruz went on injured reserve following surgery to repair the torn patellar tendon he suffered last week in Philadelphia. Cruz has 264 career catches. The five receivers currently on the roster – Randle, Beckham, Preston Parker, Corey Washington and newcomer Kevin Ogletree – have a combined 227 receptions.
Beckham, the team's first-round draft choice this season, is a very promising, but inexperienced, player. He missed almost all of training camp and the first four regular-season games with a hamstring injury. In the two games in which he's played, Beckham had six receptions for 72 yards, including the go-ahead 15-yard touchdown against Atlanta.
But now he must take on an expanded and important role and learn to play both outside and in the slot.
"Odell, this is only his third week back into practice, so he's getting his football legs underneath him," offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said. "He's getting in football shape. He's shown that he's smart and conscientious and willing to work and we're sprinkling those reps around now.
"He's very attentive in meetings, he takes it out to the field, he practices it, he asks questions, he wants to be right and wants to learn and wants to know. He wants to be a good player."
Beckham is progressing, but he still has a ways to go.
"I don't feel tired or anything like that," he said. "I'm just trying to make sure I stay in the playbook, since there are some new things getting added in, some new wrinkles. I feel like I'm not as sharp as I used to be in certain areas, but those are things that I work on. It's tough to move on without Victor, but we have to move on. I'm willing to accept whatever challenges there are ahead."
"I saw when he got to LSU that he was a great athlete and he was going to be able to bring something special to the team, which he did," Randle said. "You can instantly see that once you see him out there on the field, the things that he's capable of doing."
Randle was a junior when Beckham arrived at LSU. During their one season together, Randle caught 53 passes for 917 yards and eight touchdowns, while Beckham had 41 receptions for 475 yards and two scores. In the 21-0 BCS title game loss to the Crimson Tide, Beckham had five catches for 38 yards, Randle three for 13.
As he finds his way in his new environment, Beckham has a familiar supporter in Randle. The two receivers became close friends that season when Randle became Beckham's unofficial advisor.
"We have been close ever since my freshman year," Beckham said. "He's always taken me under his wing. That was a fun season. We were on one of the best teams in college football. The ending was unfortunate, but we were going against some of the best of the best every day. Being a freshman and you're starting on a winning team, it was a lot of fun."
"Once you're out there on the field, you have to create that bond because you're out there playing for one another, so you have to be on the same page," Randle said. "We're going to go all out for each other. He was out there starting with me, so I needed him just as much as he needed me. I needed him to be up to par, mentally and physically, in order for us to succeed offensively."
That statement applies to the current situation. Without significant production from Randle and Beckham, the Giants' aerial attack will have trouble taking flight. But the two young receivers are happy to bear that responsibility, especially because they can recreate their collegiate partnership.
"We've played together already and that comes into a whole sense of pride," Beckham said. "You're not only playing for just the Giants, you have LSU you're looking after. There are all kinds of things that come with it."
"We knew once the situation (with Cruz's injury) happened that we were going to find a way to try to evolve this offense," Randle said. "We're losing a big step in Victor. Now we'll have to be able to step in and probably play some of the slot a little bit and bring a little something different to the game. We're going to go all out for each other."
Just as they always have.