Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks throws a ball a teammate...

Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks throws a ball a teammate during team training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. He watched practice from the sidelines as he recovers from a minor injury. (Aug. 2, 2013) Credit: James Escher

Hakeem Nicks usually is so chill that he seems oblivious to outside pressures and concerns. Not even the Super Bowl got him to break a sweat, and the groin tightness that has sidelined him for a week of training camp has warranted little more than a shrug from him.

But underneath the exterior, Mr. Cool knows what's at stake for him this season. It's a contract year, and he's coming off a disappointing statistical season hampered by injuries that took away some of his most valuable skills.

So when he was asked, as he was Monday, how important it is for him to remain healthy and play all 16 games this season, the chill dissipated and a flash of uncharacteristic urgency emerged.

"It's important," he said. "My career counts on it."

Maybe not his entire career, but certainly millions of dollars that he could earn in his next contract if he puts up big numbers.

If he can show that he still is the Giants' No. 1 receiver, he likely will get an offer from them for substantially more than they recently gave Victor Cruz, which amounted to a six-year extension at about $7.6 million per season.

If he can't, well . . .

"This is a critical season for me," he said before reverting to his typical relaxed state. "I just look at it like I'm going out here to play ball and saying what I have been, playing, and don't do nothing no different . . . Playing ball and having fun. I just want to have fun and win every game if we can. That is the main focus."

The Nicks who can carry an offense hasn't been around for a while, but there was one brief sighting of him last season. In that small window of a Week 2 game against the Bucs -- when his fractured foot finally was starting to feel better and just before he suffered the knee injury that haunted him for the rest of the season -- Nicks put on a remarkable performance.

He caught 10 passes for 199 yards in that game, which wound up accounting for 19 percent of his receptions and 29 percent of his production for the entire season.

That's the Nicks the Giants want to see on a regular basis this year. Can he do it?

"I can," he said. "I believe I can. But I can't talk about it. I got to go out and do it."

The Giants were off Monday and Nicks shot a commercial at MetLife Stadium for New Era caps. He said he will practice Tuesday. And he said that before the groin became an issue, he felt the way he felt in that early-season breakout game last year.

"I felt real good,'' Nicks said. "Honestly, I felt like I had my burst again, I felt like I was in and out of my breaks. I felt my timing was back with Eli [Manning] the way it normally was. It's just a matter of hopping back in this week and keep on going."

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