Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks walks downfield during a minicamp....

Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks walks downfield during a minicamp. (June 16, 2010) Credit: James A. Escher

When Hakeem Nicks took a handoff Tuesday on an end around or ran a sprint on a go route, he didn't look inhibited at all. Nor did he feel that way.

"When I was out there [on the field], I was 100," he said of how it felt to be participating in team drills for the first time this spring.

But Nicks is not at 100 percent, even if he tries to convince himself and others of that. He's still recovering from toe surgery, and although he participated in a few workouts, he spent most of the minicamp just as he did in the OTAs - on the sideline.

"We would have loved to have had Hakeem out there," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Thursday. "We know that he's recovering health-wise, and hopefully that will translate into improved performance next fall."

A healthy Nicks will be dangerous. As a rookie he was impressive. The Giants are hoping he can be a game-changer as a second-year player who is more confident in the playbook, more comfortable with Eli Manning, and more athletic with a cleaned-out toe.

The most important element in all of that is the chemistry with Manning. During this offseason, he's had virtually no on-the-field interaction with his quarterback. After missing all of the OTAs, Nicks said missing most of minicamp was not a serious detriment to their timing.

"It's not something you can get done in three days," he said. "It's going to take training camp to get that done."

Or some other camp. Nicks will visit the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana in July, when he will have a chance to work with Manning on their connection. It will at least be something, if not exactly what Nicks needs.

"We'll have a few days to work out then," Manning said. "But it's getting him into practice, getting him live where he's got to make decisions and reads and work on his releases. That'll be the most important thing."

Gilbride agreed.

"What he needs is the coaches with him and telling him what to do," Gilbride said. "Eli will help, certainly, and catching as many balls from him and trying to use Eli as an extension of the coaching staff will certainly be beneficial to him. But he needs to be here with the intensity of coaches telling him what to do and also the opportunity to compete against somebody playing him defensively and trying to shut him down."

That experience will have to wait until training camp starts in August. That's when the patience of sitting him out for most of the spring should be rewarded with a healthy Nicks who is ready to play and is truly at 100 percent.

Notes & quotes: DE Justin Tuck downplayed the foot soreness that held him out the final two practices of minicamp, insisting he was dealing with a hangnail. Tom Coughlin didn't seem too concerned and said the soreness was "probably wear and tear" . . . WR Mario Manningham was excused from yesterday's workout for personal reasons . . . Yes, S Kenny Phillips is still on track to be ready for camp. "I'm very confident - he is, also - that he will be back," Coughlin said. "We look forward to that part of it." Added defensive coordinator Perry Fewell: "It's unfortunate that we didn't have him in the OTAs, but I'm looking forward to having him on Aug. 1."

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