It wasn't the move that impressed Victor Cruz. It was the mentality.

The Giants wide receiver caught a pass in Saturday's practice, stutter-stepped with what he called a "jump-hop," planted his foot and took off down the sideline for a few extra yards. It's the kind of play we've seen Cruz make often, a shifty cut to get himself free of a defender's grasp or coverage. But Saturday was the first time he did it since he tore his patellar tendon last fall.

And the best part?

He didn't have to think about it.

"It was almost subconscious," Cruz said after the workout, the eighth of training camp and (to the amazement of some) the eighth in which he has participated. "It kind of just happened. I was happy that it came naturally and I didn't have to think about it. Nothing hurt. I was able to do it and keep going. That was a good sign."

All of the signs have been good ones for Cruz since he showed up for the start of training camp. He hasn't needed a day off. He hasn't come up from any routes or plays flexing the knee uncomfortably. He hasn't had any setbacks at all.

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"He's moving along very well," Tom Coughlin said. "Very well."

That progress is about to hit a speed bump, though. The Giants will hold joint practices with the Bengals on Tuesday and Wednesday before playing them in the preseason opener Friday night. Cruz said he will make the trip with the team and take part in Giants-only drills and reps, but he will not be on the field against an opposing team at any point during the trip.

"They don't want me to get overcompetitive and go out and do something crazy," he said. "As much as I assured them I won't, they still won't allow me."

So he'll wait. The goal is to be ready for the regular-season opener, not the preseason one. Cruz said he'd like to get into at least one preseason game before the Sept. 13 game against Dallas that actually counts just so he can get some "tuneup work." But that decision, he said, he'll leave to the training staff.

Until then, he'll have to settle for pushing himself in the relatively safe environment against his teammates. There still are routes, Cruz said, with which he needs to get more "comfortable." He needs to trust the cuts, trust the knee.

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"Making sure that pop is still there, making sure that quickness out of the break is still there, making sure I can still do the cut the way I did in years past," Cruz said. "I have so far; it's just a matter of getting comfortable with it."

The most important thing for Cruz is that when he watches himself in the video room after practice, he sees . . . himself.

"I see a guy who resembles the guy who was playing last year," he said. "Still got that same pop, still got the same abilities, still has the lateral quickness off the line."

After Saturday, still has the jump-hop move.

"I just haven't let it all out of the bag yet," he said. "I haven't given all the moves out just yet."

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But they're coming, whether Cruz thinks about them or not.