It’s a pretty familiar story in Giants lore.
Many of the top wide receivers are hurt. An undrafted kid gets his opportunity in a preseason game against the Jets. He has an unbelievably successful game. Suddenly everyone knows his name. He goes on to make the team and becomes a star.
The Victor Cruz Tale.
Travis Rudolph was watching that night in 2010 when Cruz burst on to the scene. He was a middle-schooler tuning in to the nationally televised game and watched Cruz catch three touchdown passes. “He had some crazy acrobatic catches, touchdowns,” Rudolph said. “He showed out in that game. I hadn’t heard of him, but I knew who he was then.”
The same thing could happen Saturday night, but this time Rudolph won’t be watching from home. It could happen to him.
The undrafted rookie from Florida State undoubtedly will have plenty of opportunities to play in the preseason game against the Jets. With Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Harris and Tavarres King injured and unlikely to play, someone will have to line up and run routes for Eli Manning.
“Next man up,” Rudolph said Wednesday after a practice in which he was that next man and he stood up.
Rudolph took reps with the starting offense in workouts Wednesday and Thursday, lining up outside when the team was in three-receiver sets. Roger Lewis Jr. was on the other side and Sterling Shepard was in the slot. It was Ru dolph’s first chance to run with that group, what he hopes will be the first of many.
The Giants have been intrigued by Rudolph since they signed him shortly after the draft. He came to the team known more for his role in a viral video from last year, when he and Florida State teammates visited a middle school and he sat with an autistic child during lunch. Now, though, he wants to make his mark on the field.
Rudolph has played in both preseason games with some good — he’s caught three passes for 30 yards — and some bad. The most egregious error came in the opener when he fumbled a kickoff return. The Giants recovered, but those kinds of things are not well-received by coaches. “Mistakes happen, but you have to move on,” Rudolph said. “Don’t let it happen again.”
For an undrafted rookie, sometimes one chance is all you get. That’s a lot of pressure knowing that any slip-up can be your last and cost you a spot on the final roster. “You can’t have that mentality,” Rudolph said. “If you focus on making a mistake, that’s when mistakes happen.”
He prefers to think about the flip side of that dynamic. The one in which a single play can earn you a place on the team and a strong performance in one game — even a preseason game — can turn a relative nobody into a star.
“Just go out there and show what you can do, and I can just open eyes,” Rudolph said.
It’s happened before. He saw it.
Now his challenge is to live it.