CINCINNATI** – Victor Cruz was putting on his practice uniform in the Giants' locker room in Paul Brown Stadium today when wide receivers coach Sean Ryan stopped by to deliver a message. The coaches had given Cruz two plays in most of the team periods in the joint practice with the Cincinnati Bengals. It was thought that Cruz would participate only in individual drills.
"Coach Ryan came up to me and told me what the plan was, what routes I was going to run, and what periods I was going to be in and things like that," Cruz said. "I got excited. I was going to get dressed up and go out there and do whatever we were doing individually anyway. But to know I had some plays, to know I was going to be in the mix a little bit, it felt good."
Cruz didn't catch a pass, had just one ball thrown to him, and stayed on the sideline during the 7-on-7 segment and later the two-minute drill that ended practice. But it was another step toward full recovery from the surgery he underwent last October to repair a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. The Giants have Cruz on a program in which progress is slow but steady. If his comeback is 1,000 baby steps, Cruz moved forward another 10 or 12 today.
"It's all up to the training staff and the coaching staff, being on the same page," Cruz said. "Making sure I'm progressing and getting better and understanding, offensively, what I need to get. But also keeping me safe and doing the things they need to do to preserve and not do anything crazy."
In the teams' first joint practice yesterday, Cruz worked with the Giants receivers, but was a spectator when they went up against the Bengals. That was thought to be the plan again today, until Cruz ran onto the field to face the Cincinnati defense.
"That was the decision that we made, or I made coming out here, that we would go ahead and look at practice the first day and decide how much," coach Tom Coughlin said. "So we got him in there a couple snaps each segment with the exception at the end there. It's good for him to come out here and get on the field against somebody else."
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"It's always good to have Victor out there playing," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We just have to keep working, and the more he can get out there and feeling good about things, the better off we'll be."
Cruz said he had one communication error with Manning, but "it was no biggie." More importantly, he cleared hurdles both mental and physical.
Photos from Thursday's joint practice with the Bengals in Cincinnati
"Coming out here, I kind of understood what we were doing," Cruz said. "I knew we were going to take it easy in terms of what I was going to be doing individually, but I wanted to get a little bit against them. Get a little bit of a challenge, get a little bit of some head-to-head things against them, and I did that today and I felt good. It's tough to get into a rhythm when you only have two plays per period, it's hard to get warmed up for every period, but we made it happen."
Regarding the trust he has in his knee, Cruz said, "I have a lot of trust. Like I said, there's no pain, nothing hurts, it's just a matter of continuing to run routes, continue to get the familiarity back from what I remember, and things like that and keeping it going."
The work today was Cruz's first participation in 11-on-11 football since he injured his knee last Oct. 19 in Philadelphia. It's no surprise, then, that he centered on the joy of finding himself in that situation.
"I just wanted to play, man," he said. "I was just kind of looking at the defense, it kind of just felt like the normal everyday thing, just another team in front of you. Nothing felt different, it's just a matter of going out there and continuing to do.
"Everything felt kind of similar to what I had hoped, and I felt good in and out of breaks, getting open, and things like that."
If Cruz had the final say, he would take a few snaps in the preseason opener against the Bengals here on Friday. But Coughlin announced Cruz will not play. Cruz considers getting some preseason action the final hurdle he needs to clear before the regular season begins in Dallas a month from tomorrow.
"I'd love at least one game, a couple snaps, whatever they feel is right," he said. "I want to get a little bit of work and get tackled a few times, and see how it feels and stuff like that, but that's about it."
He might have to settle for a few more baby steps before that happens.
- The Giants were pleased with the work they accomplished in their two practices with the Bengals.
"We did some good things and didn't do some other things very well," Coughlin said.
"It's lots of people, lots of work, lots of situations to be in. It's been two good days and it gives us a lot of speed work, in addition to the first preseason game, so that's a good thing."
"I think it's good to come out and go against a defense, see some different looks and kind of test what you know," Manning said. "Especially, no game plan against them, you don't know what style might be coming out, what blitzes, what looks. You just have to adjust and go play football."
- Not one fight broke out, a departure from what usually occurs in the NFL when two teams practice with each other. Late in this afternoon's practice, Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga jumped up and got in the face of Giants rookie tackle Ereck Flowers. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis immediately yelled, "Get me another Mike linebacker," and Maualaga walked off the field.
"I know what type of character guys we have on our team and the Bengals run a great organization under Marvin Lewis, great team," Cruz said. "We understood the character we have on both teams. We came into it understanding that we were going to play this game with respect and dignity. We were going to come out here and show them what New York Giants football is all about and they did the same. They were great and nothing got chippie. It was competitive but nothing chippie."
- Wide receiver Rueben Randle, who left yesterday's workout early with knee tendonitis, did not practice today. Coughlin did not know if Randle will play in the game. "I'm surprised he wasn't able to work today," Coughlin said.
- Cornerback Prince Amukamara (groin) sat out again.
- Coughlin said the other starting corner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, is also dealing with a groin injury. "(He) played his way through that," Coughlin said. "Hopefully, that's all it is, some short-term deal."