EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Victor Cruz's return to action took a detour today, when the wide receiver left the field during the period early in practice devoted to individual drills. He was bothered again by the strained calf that has sidelined him for six weeks.
"Victor came out and tried to do individuals," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He felt the calf again and that's all he did."
Cruz did not speak to reporters after practice. His departure puts into question his availability for the Giants' game Sunday in Buffalo. On Monday, Cruz was optimistic he would make his 2015 debut against the Bills. He went so far as to say, "I'm convinced I'm playing Sunday."
But his first stint on the practice field since Aug. 17 lasted only a few minutes. He left the field and alerted the Giants' athletic trainers he had an issue.
"(He) did some individual stuff, ran a few routes and that was about it," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We'll see how it goes."
Rueben Randle said the other wide receivers noticed Cruz wasn't quite right when he was doing the drills.
"We could see a little limp in him a little bit once he tried to turn up and run," Randle said. "We could tell that he wasn't quite ready yet to play full speed. I'm pretty sure if we needed him to play he could play, but he still can sit out a little bit and rest up. … We were just running routes in individual, it wasn't a play. We could just see once he tried to turn up a little bit, he kind of looked a little gimpy, kind of holding back a little bit. I don't think he's too far away, but I don't think he's quite there yet.
"He wasn't the Cruz that we know. That's what we want to see, we don't want to rush him back and hurt it even more. We were trying to tell him, 'Don't try to stress it too much, take as much time as possible,' because we didn't want him to hurt it even worse than what it is and have to be out even longer. As his teammates, we care for him and want him to come back as healthy as possible."
Cruz is enormously popular in the locker room, and his teammates know how hard he has worked to try to return to the field. So they shared his unhappiness today.
"I know Victor is very anxious," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "I've seen him in the training room and on the field just working hard trying to get back out there. Anytime you have a little mishap, for me it just plays with the mind. But Victor is very strong mentally and like I told him, it's a long season, just forget the pressure. You know when you're injured and much is expected out of you, there's a lot of pressure on you. I just told him to forget about that, it's a long season and to keep his head up.
"Victor is a leader for this team on and off the field. He does all the right things; like I said, he was in the training room doing everything he can. On Thursday, when everybody had a break who didn't have treatment, he's back here, and he was here all offseason. I got to see his journey and him getting back, so I just understand how frustrating it can be."
"Hopefully, it's just minor," Manning said. "I know he's been working hard since the knee injury and it's always frustrating for everybody when you're injured and you want to be out there and it's something that's nagging with a muscle strain. It's not fun for anybody. He's got a great attitude toward it, so hopefully he can just continue to heal up and get out there when he can."
Manning said the Giants can't afford to be deflated by the Cruz news.
"We're going about our business," Manning said. "We've got guys who've been playing and who've been practicing. We've got a job to do and I think guys are focused on understanding the game plan, the plays, the different things we may be getting to and what we're trying to do and just going about our job trying to get ready to play well against the Bills."
The Giants can't seem to get their top three receivers – Odell Beckham Jr., Cruz and Randle – on the field for the same time. Because Beckham missed the first four games of his rookie season, the trio played together for only six quarters last year before Cruz tore his right patellar tendon last Oct. 12. He hasn't played since.
"We were hoping this would be the week," Randle said. "But like I said, there will be a day when he comes back when he's ready. We're not trying to rush him back or anything like that. I think we have enough talent now while he's out."
They did last week, when Randle and Beckham each caught seven passes and scored a touchdown in the Giants' 32-21 victory over Washington. But Cruz would give Manning and the offense one more weapon, and add a dimension to the passing attack it has lacked since he was hurt last year.
Now Beckham and Randle will again be asked to step up in Cruz's absence.
"I'm getting pretty used to it now," Randle said. "I think we all will be prepared for it. We work pretty hard together, had a pretty good practice, made a lot of plays. Once you get that confidence in Eli, getting to those checks he'll get into during the game and make some plays, I think everything will be okay."
*Tight ends Daniel Fells (ankle) and Jerome Cunningham (knee) did not practice. Coughlin indicated Fells will be able to play in Buffalo.
Four players who missed the Washington game practiced on a limited basis: defensive ends Robert Ayers (hamstring) and Owa Odighizuwa (foot), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee), and tackle Ereck Flowers (ankle). Running back Orleans Darkwa (knee) was also limited.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who sat out the game with a concussion, practiced fully.
*Four Bills missed practice: wide receivers Sammy Watkins (calf) and Percy Harvin (hip), running back LeSean McCoy (hamstring), and guard John Miller (groin).