Having Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr. in the same lineup offers so many tantalizing possibilities, with the Giants’ receiving hero from earlier this decade with the mega star of today’s NFL providing what could be an epic combination for Eli Manning.
But the two have been on the field together for a mere six quarters since they became teammates in 2014, and it appears their long-awaited reunion will have to wait a little longer. With Cruz out of the lineup again, this time with a tight groin that prompted him to remove himself early from practice on Tuesday, it’s unlikely that Friday’s preseason opener against the Dolphins will be his first live game since Oct. 12, 2014.
Cruz used the word “better” Wednesday to describe his latest injury situation: “Doing good, I’ll give you that.”
But we have heard this before with Cruz, especially last year at this time, when what appeared to be an innocuous calf injury — Cruz referred to it as a “hiccup” — eventually turned into season-ending surgery. Cruz had recovered from a torn patellar tendon he suffered the year before, but the calf injury kept him out until the start of this year’s training camp.
Cruz had looked sharp in camp while handling almost a full workload.
“Victor was coming along quite well,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said Wednesday after practice. “He was getting a sense of the timing and rhythm moving around in multiple positions. We saw him getting more and more comfortable, getting that chemistry back with Eli. It’s disappointing for him and us, but we’re just going to have to continue to do all we can and he’s going to have to do all he can to get himself back into the fray.”
Cruz once was the Giants’ leading receiver, a playmaker who came up huge during the 2011 Super Bowl run. That 99-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown against the Jets in Week 16 was one of the most important plays in franchise history, and he and the Giants wound up in a parade through the Canyon of Heroes six weeks later.
But once Beckham emerged as a rookie in 2014 and Cruz got hurt, it has been Odell’s offense. And with a stable of young receivers that includes rookie Sterling Shepard, who has been a revelation in camp, Cruz needs to get back on the field. He needs to play in a game, and he needs to get his confidence back after being out nearly two years.
Shepard has been likened to a younger version of Cruz, compactly built at 5-10, 194 pounds, with reliable hands and an instinctive ability to get open in tight spaces. Although there is no immediate danger to Cruz’s roster spot, Shepard’s emergence, plus the presence of Dwayne Harris, who improved last season, Geremy Davis and rookie free agent Roger Lewis eventually could change things.
Beckham doesn’t seem too worried about Cruz’s situation.
“I didn’t even know he had anything like that,” he said of Cruz’s latest injury. “I didn’t think anything was bad. I’m just excited for him to be able to come back and play, and I keep reminding him that his first game is Sept. 11 (at Dallas). Even though you need to get your feet wet, all that matters is you’re prepared for Week 1.”
Point taken. But for Cruz, unlike other established veterans who use camp and preseason to tune up for the games that count, every rep is magnified. And when you don’t get in a game — even if the score is meaningless — questions linger about what will happen when you finally do play.
Cruz doesn’t appear ready to have those questions answered, because this latest setback might keep him out of the lineup again.
He needs to get back to start providing some answers.