EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Two hundred and eighty-five days after he tore his patellar tendon and was carted off the turf at Lincoln Financial Field, Victor Cruz today practiced with his Giants teammates for the first time.
"It felt good just to be around the guys again and feel like a normal football player and not be doing anything special with the training staff and things like that," Cruz said. "It felt good to be back around the guys again. More importantly, obviously, the football thing, catching footballs and running routes, all that stuff. It was obviously fun and happy to be back, but it was the guys and the teammates that I missed the most."
With 264 career receptions, Cruz is 12th on the Giants' career list. He was well on his way to becoming the 11th player in franchise history with at least 300 catches when he suffered his season-ending injury last Oct. 19 and missed the season's final 10 games. Cruz underwent surgery and endured an arduous rehabilitation.
Through the spring practices and minicamp, Cruz was limited to individual and positional drills. Today was the first time he lined up with the entire offense - but not immediately. During the first team segment of practice, Rueben Randle and Preston Parker were the wide receivers. But Cruz soon appeared and was joined by Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr., who was sidelined in the spring with a strained hamstring. Their appearance pumped up the crowd for the opening training camp practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
"It's just going to be that kind of rotation," coach Tom Coughlin said. "They have a pitch count, they have a workload."
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"You want to develop a little flow," Cruz said. "You want to get a little routine going, kind of get in there, break a sweat. But they're still kind of monitoring my reps and monitoring my progress. Just got to take it one day at a time and when I'm in there, to make my reps count."
Cruz ran several routes and at one point hit the ground hard. Everyone seemed to momentarily hold their breath. Cruz popped right back up and returned to the huddle.
"He actually went on the ground one time and felt good about doing that," Coughlin said. "So, that's one hurdle."
"It was definitely a good thing," Cruz said. "Obviously, you never want to be tackled and potentially be hurt. But the fact that I went down pretty hard and was able to get up and there was no pain, nothing was wrong and got back up and kept it moving. I think that was a good thing to kind of gauge the knee and how everything was feeling and to be able to go from there."
Cruz said he did not think about his surgically-repaired knee when he lined up for the first time.
"I knew it was strong, I knew it was healthy," he said. "I've been running routes for a little while now in the offseason. So I knew that it was strong enough. A little bit coming out, you think about it, but during the routes and during the play-calling, not a thought at all."
Cruz's long-term goal has been to play on opening night in Dallas on Sept. 13. Today, he took a significant step toward realizing that objective.
"He was out there and working and enjoying himself," Coughlin said. "There's more to come."
"Looking back nine months, I wouldn't have thought that I would be out there day one of training camp, ready to go," Cruz said. "The fact that I am, and the fact that nothing hurts, and the fact that I feel good, it's just indicative of all the hard work I was putting in throughout the offseason and since the injury happened. I'm just happy to be out there again."
And the Giants are happy to have him back.
Photos from Friday's Giants Training Camp practice!
- Coughlin said he is not going to worry about Cruz's and Beckham's physical condition on a play-by-play basis.
"You can't do that," he said. "The players are going to play. They've got to go play the game. That's the name of the game. We want to do everything we can to make sure that all the necessary precautions are made, but when they do take the field for the required number of plays, they've got to play the game and they wouldn't want it any other way. You watch those guys in a meeting and they're as intense and anxious as anybody just to play the game."
- One of the goals of the Giants' offensive line this season is to be more aggressive.
"We have got to be a group of tough guys," said left guard Justin Pugh, who is currently joined on the line by Weston Richburg, Geoff Schwartz, Marshall Newhouse and first-round draft choice Ereck Flowers. "That's what we've got to be. We've been watching '08 film when the Giants O-line was probably the best in the business and they were just a bunch of tough guys. After plays, putting in a little extra stuff and between the whistles, they were knocking guys down and no one really wanted to play against them. I was watching Ravens film when they played them in '08 and they beat them like 30-10. Watching (Chris) Snee, (Rich) Seubert, all those guys in there at guard, I definitely got an appreciation and I want to try to emulate the way they played the game."
The man they're charged with protecting endorses that mindset.
"I like big, mean, nasty offensive linemen," quarterback Eli Manning said. "If that's the way you could grow them, that's the way you grow them. I think this group has a little of that in them. You have those offensive linemen that are tough and that hang together, are smart, and play well together. Those are the best bunch. It's not how good each one of them is, it's how good they are with all five of them working together, and having that toughness about them."
Manning won a Super Bowl and then 12 regular season games playing behind the line that also included David Diehl, Shaun O'Hara and Kareem McKenzie (in addition to Snee and Seubert).
"I think that offensive line we had those years in '07, '08, it was the same guys for a number of years, which you don't see a whole lot," Manning said. "We kind of have some guys who have been in the system for a few years now, been around, but you do see the closeness. They get along well, they work well together, they compete at practice, they like being challenged, they take it seriously. So from that aspect, they got a little toughness to them. There can be some similarities."
- Running back Shane Vereen, signed as a free agent in March, played his first four NFL seasons in New England, where his quarterback was four-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady. Now he's working with Manning, who has led the Giants to two Super Bowl victories.
"I see the same pedigree," Vereen said. "They both work extremely hard on and off the field. They're both masters of the game, the way they look at it, the way they teach it, and the way they carry themselves. They're both leaders. In that sense, they're very similar."
- Vereen deftly deflected questions about Deflategate, the air pressure scandal for which Brady is suspended for the season's first four games.
"I get asked about it a lot, but I know just as much as everybody else," Vereen said. "I'm a New York Giant now and that's where my focus has been. Going forward, that's where my focus will be. We'll see what happens with whatever goes on in New England, but I'm here now."
- Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said he has spoken with Jason Pierre-Paul, apparently one of the few players to do so since the defensive end's fireworks accident on July 4.
"I have talked to him, little quick conversations," Jenkins said.
Jenkins was asked if it sounds like JPP is "doing okay."
"I didn't ask him too much," Jenkins said. "The biggest concern was asking him how he was doing. He sounded in good spirits."
- Rookie wide receiver Ben Edwards of Richmond was waived and tackle William Beatty (torn pec) was officially placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list.