EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.** – Count Victor Cruz among those connected to the Giants who look forward to him lining up with Odell Beckham Jr. in 2015.
"I'm just excited to get myself together and play alongside that kid next year," Cruz said today.
Cruz has been sidelined since suffering a torn patellar tendon in the Giants' loss in Philadelphia on Oct. 12. The following week, Beckham caught two touchdown passes in Dallas and has become a popular phenomenon, just as Cruz did in his breakout 2011 season. Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning have been asked if they've thought about the potential productivity of a Cruz/Beckham partnership (which lasted less than seven full quarters this season). Cruz is clearly excited about the prospect.
"It's been tough being out, obviously, during that span of those games that we lost because you feel helpless, like you want to do something but you can't," Cruz said. "But watching Odell has been fun. He's been great. That kid is a heck of an athlete, heck of a ballplayer. Just seeing the things that he's doing out there is motivating me to come back and be able to play next to him and do some really good things next year."
On the third anniversary of his franchise-record 99-yard touchdown vs. the Jets, Cruz spoke at a news conference in the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, where he updated his condition for the first time since he spoke on a conference call shortly after his surgery two months ago. He has been rehabbing daily and is certain he will still be the player that caught 241 passes for 3,626 yards and 23 touchdowns from 2011-13.
"There's no doubt in my mind that I'll return to form and I'll return to the type of player that I was in years past, and I'm excited to put myself through this," Cruz said. "I've overcome a lot of obstacles and I feel like this is just another one that's come across that I have to conquer and move forward. I'm excited for this opportunity, but there isn't a doubt in my mind that I'll be back playing and playing like myself again."
Cruz said he has received support from current and former players, and advice from teammates who had a similar injury. One was Michael Strahan, who received his Hall of Fame ring when the Giants hosted Indianapolis on Nov. 3.
"He said sometimes time away is good to kind of refresh your mind and really realize what you play this game for, and spend time with your family that you haven't spent probably in the past two, three years," Cruz said. "(He gave me) certain advice that has helped me a lot during this situation. (Arizona receiver) Larry Fitzgerald reached out to me and said some really good things. It's just good. This NFL is a fraternity, and it's something that I'll never take for granted ever again.
"Zack Bowman had an injury like this. Marcus Harris had a similar injury, and they said it's tedious in terms of the rehab. But they were running again, I think, in about six to seven months. Hopefully I can beat that, but without rushing things. I want to make sure I'm 100 percent with no ailments, with no pain or anything like that when I'm running or when I'm doing all the things I need to do to get back out there on the field. But according to them, they've come back stronger, they've come back faster. They're working muscles that they didn't even know they had in their legs, in their groin, in the quads and things like that. I'm excited for what's to come. I'm excited for how I'll feel once I'm 100 percent, if I'll even be stronger. I'm just excited for that. I've never had an injury where I've been out this long or this strenuous of a rehab. I'm excited to see how far I can push myself."
Cruz underwent surgery 10 weeks ago. He walks on a treadmill, works out on the elliptical and has done what he calls "light stuff" on the trampoline. He said he has full range of motion in the knee and does calf raises, leg raises, knee extensions.
"I'm pretty much fully mobile," he said, "but just not running just yet."
"I think he has done well," Coughlin said. "I think he is on schedule. I don't think there have been any setbacks. There aren't any crutches, no anything, at this point in time. I think he feels pretty good about that. I have watched him work from time to time (with the athletic trainers) and he has been pushing hard."
Although he can't suit up, Cruz takes very seriously his responsibilities as a team captain and a leader of the wide receivers. He has counseled Beckham throughout the season. Because he became a sudden wide receiver star three years ago, perhaps no one can understand better than Cruz what Beckham is experiencing. With one game remaining, Beckham has set Giants rookie records with 79 catches for 1,120 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"I'm trying to coach him up as a person," Cruz said, "on how to attack this media and this New York area and how to just be someone that's held accountable for your actions and be a good person and things that he's had trouble with that he's confided in me early on. I try to just help him out with that.
"(My advice is) just stay grounded. There's going to be a lot of new people reaching for you, tugging for you and trying to be next and close to you. Just stick with the people that brought you here, that took care of you when you were younger, that took care of you when you had nothing essentially. Stay grounded, and I think he's done that so far. He's a good kid and he's really learning on the fly, which is good."
Cruz is uncertain when he will join his protégé on the field.
"It's kind of up to the trainers," he said. "I like to put it in those guys' hands to see how far they think I'm progressing, but personally, I'd like to be back by training camp, obviously, so I can get back with the guys and get that work in that I need before preseason and before the regular season starts up again."
The Giants' offense has improved significantly since Cruz last played. He looks forward to rejoining it next year.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," he said. "I don't like to get into next year and start promising things, but when I reach my peak health and I'm 100 percent again and everything is clicking the way it should be and the receiving corps and Eli and everybody is on the same page, it should be a fun offense to watch. I'm excited for the opportunity and I think for me right now, it's just taking it one day at a time."
- Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard (toe) did not practice today. Both Kennard and Coughlin said he is "day-to-day."
Running back Rashad Jennings (ankle), linebacker Jameel McClain (knee), running back Andre Williams (shoulder) and linebacker Paul Hazel (hamstring) were limited.