Struggling Hakeem Nicks could learn a lot from Victor Cruz

Victor Cruz is congratulated by teammate Hakeem Nicks

Victor Cruz is congratulated by teammate Hakeem Nicks of the Giants after Cruz scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of a game against the Washington Redskins. (Oct. 21, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

Bob Glauber

Newsday columnist Bob Glauber Bob Glauber

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Victor Cruz isn't offering any advice to his struggling fellow wide receiver, and Hakeem Nicks isn't asking. For that matter, Nicks won't even discuss what might be going on inside his head and whether a preoccupation with his uncertain contract situation has anything to do with his mystifyingly slow start.

"I don't talk about my contract," said Nicks, who is in the final year of his rookie deal.

It's almost the identical situation Cruz found himself in last year, and he speaks from experience when he tells you it's not easy and that it does get in your head. No matter how much you try to block it out, or how much you think you block it out.

"Mentally, it was hard," Cruz told me Thursday. "Every game, every week, there's that question, either from you guys or in some article or somebody out in the media or in the Twitter world.''

Cruz played last season in the final year of his own rookie deal, making less than $600,000 despite coming off a Super Bowl year in which he was a major key to the offense. Cruz knew he was worth more, and the Giants knew he was worth more, but they couldn't agree on a deal -- worth almost $46 million -- until just before the start of this year's training camp.

It didn't help Cruz's case that he was a restricted free agent, meaning the Giants retained almost exclusive contract rights.

But Cruz powered through what could have been a distraction last season. After a brilliant 2011 campaign in which he caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns, Cruz had 86 catches for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

How did he stay so productive despite being arguably the NFL's most underpaid player?

"You just have to put your head down and keep going," he said. "I just played. You can't think about any of that stuff . The only thing I could control was the way I played out there on that field. So I just relaxed and just played the game."

For Nicks, 25, it hasn't worked out as he had hoped. After four games, he has only 12 catches for 230 yards and no touchdowns. Cruz leads the Giants with 26 catches for 425 yards and four TDs.

In Sunday's 31-7 loss to the Chiefs, Nicks dropped a pass late in the first half, a deep sideline route that could have put the Giants in great position for the go-ahead touchdown. Instead, the Giants were forced to attempt a field goal that Josh Brown missed.

"Nine times out of 10, I come down with it," Nicks said after the game. "It's just a matter of me fighting the off me and zooming in on the ball a little better, that's all."

There was another drop earlier, the continuation of a disturbing trend. Nicks said it had nothing to do with suffering a dislocated middle finger on his left hand in Week 2.

"I'd be the first one to tell you those are plays I'm supposed to come down with,'' he said. "I'm not going to hang my head. I'm going to continue to be upbeat and focus on turning this thing around."

Even coach Tom Coughlin, a former wide receivers coach during his previous run with the Giants under Bill Parcells, is surprised by the drops.

"Rare. It's really rare," Coughlin said. "He usually gobbles those balls up. He's a very confident young man who recognizes right away whatever it is you're trying to point out to him and he tries to do something about it."

Cruz said the drops aren't so troublesome. It's what Nicks does after them that really counts.

"Drops happen. I have drops," Cruz said. "I don't say anything [to Nicks] because he's thinking about it enough. He just has to continue playing, continue looking the ball in, wiping the play before out of his mind and continue going forward."

Good advice all around. Looks as if Nicks can use it.

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