Ramses Barden was ready to go back to the shadows. Instead, he seems to be going back to the spotlight.
A week after his breakout performance against the Panthers, it appeared he once again would be relegated to the depths of the depth chart, the team's seldom-used fourth receiver. The players who had been injured and unable to play, forcing the Giants to promote Barden to a starting role Sept. 20, were coming back. There was no room for Barden to be on the field much. How could he possibly fit into the game plan?
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"Those things usually take care of themselves, unfortunately, because somebody is always getting nicked," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "You're waiting to see how Hakeem [Nicks] is going to be. The chances will be there for all of those guys to get in and get some play."
The chance is now. With Nicks ruled out for Sunday night's game against the Eagles because of a knee injury he suffered two weeks ago against the Bucs that was not made public until Friday, Barden once again will be called upon to contribute.
He might not start. That job likely will go to Domenik Hixon, who is coming off a concussion. But at the very least, Barden will be the team's third receiver. And the difference between a third and a fourth receiver in a game plan is like the difference between a vice president and the Speaker of the House in the line of succession. Sure, they're next to each other, but it's hard to imagine a scenario in which it gets to that point.
During the week, Barden was preparing himself to play physically but was bracing for a reduced role mentally.
"Obviously, I'm hungry for as much as I can get, but everybody can't get it all the time," Barden said Wednesday. "The goal is to win. If we win, everybody eats."
Barden's performance might not have earned him more snaps or a much larger place in the game plan at first, but what it did do is give the Giants -- and himself -- confidence that when he is asked to contribute, he can.
"It's about trying to take advantage of it when your name is called," Barden said. "It might not get called all the time, but I know that when it is called, I'm ready and prepared to make a play."
So does Gilbride.
"He did a great job and I could not be happier for the success he had," he said. "When a chance came, he jumped up and seized it . . . You don't hesitate to use him."
Coach Tom Coughlin has always preached a "next man up" mentality for the Giants, and it's often worked out -- from Chase Blackburn, Dave Tollefson and Kevin Boothe, backups who played key roles in last year's Super Bowl run, to last week's coming-out party for Barden and Andre Brown, two forgotten pieces from the 2009 draft.
Finding a spot for those types of players has never been one of Coughlin's concerns.
"The more the merrier," he said. "Let's have all the talent we can possibly have. They'll contribute in a lot of different ways, and over the course of 16 games, it all works out."
The Giants have had several players seemingly burst on to the scene in recent years. Victor Cruz might be the best example. He, like Barden, was rarely used and had to step into a starting role because of injuries in a Week 3 game. He caught three passes against the Eagles in that game last year -- two of them for touchdowns -- and went on to have more single-season receiving yardage than anyone else in Giants history.
Cruz followed the Eagles game with six receptions the following week and eight the week after that. Before long, he was writing books, selling soup and salsa dancing in the Super Bowl.
But Cruz did, in fact, return to a backup role after that Eagles breakout. He became the Giants' third receiver when Mario Manningham went back to the starting role the following week.
"I just continued to keep my head," Cruz said of that small step back on the depth chart. "Ramses is a good person. He'll continue to keep his head and understand what he has to do to help this team in any way possible."
Barden knows that. He had to endure three years buried on the Giants' roster, hampered by injuries and hounded by doubters before last week's starring turn. He didn't know when the next opportunity would come -- no one seemed to know it might be this week until Nicks' knee swelled up Thursday after his one and only practice of the week -- but having the experience from the Panthers game will make him more prepared for that next time, he said.
"I knew I could do it," Barden said, "but to have it on record and to be able to go back and watch it and say, 'Yeah, that's me' . . . and there's only more there."