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Giants' Rolle sees Nicks becoming top receiver

Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants

Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants is tackled by Glover Quin #29 of the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Houston, Texas. The Giants defeated the Texans 34-10. Credit: Getty

Giants safety Antrel Rolle spent the first five years of his career with the Cardinals, where every day in practice, he would get to face the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

"I've been around the best of the best receivers, and right now, the way he's playing," Rolle said Monday with a nod across the locker room, "he's definitely among the elite."

The high praise was aimed at Hakeem Nicks, who is getting used to having things thrown his way besides that compliment - such as the attention of defensive backs and the 17 passes Eli Manning chucked in his direction Sunday. The second-year receiver caught 12 of them for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the 34-10 rout of the Texans. He has six TD receptions, second only to Antonio Gates' seven.

The Giants drafted Nicks in the first round in 2009, so they had some hope he could develop into a top-notch receiver. Now that he is one, in many eyes, he's still striving to get better.

Rolle said he and Nicks - whom he calls "Smooth" because of his laid-back demeanor - had a conversation Sunday on the flight home from Houston.

"He felt like he wasn't playing his best game," Rolle said. "He said, 'I just felt like I was playing a little bit too timid. I want to go out there and let it all hang out.' "

Nicks' performance did have some flaws, as he noted. He dropped a wide-open pass that would have been a 51-yard touchdown. He caught a short pass on an in route that he quickly spun to the outside and raced to make a 27-yard gain, but he was stopped at the 1 on what could have been another touchdown.

But he also made some terrific plays, such as the run after the catch to set up Brandon Jacobs' 1-yard TD and a 14-yard sideline reception in the third quarter.

Manning said Sunday that he doesn't have a favorite receiver, that coverages and routes determine where he throws. So far, though, Nicks has been getting a lot of those passes. Their chemistry is bubbling in the beaker.

"It just comes with more repetition," Nicks said. "He's comfortable with me now. He probably knows I know what I'm doing. Last year, there were probably some times where I would [mess up] some plays, just being in the heat of the moment. But this year, I'm a lot more settled, playing with a lot more confidence."

Rolle said he's seen many great quarterback-receiver combinations, from the Kurt Warner-Fitzgerald duo to Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. Now he's seeing that kind of a connection between Eli and Nicks.

"I definitely think Eli is seeing that, too," Rolle said. "He understands that Hakeem is a dog and if you need a big play, we have a lot of great receivers, but right now, Nicks has been the guy putting points on the board."

It's changing the way the Giants do business.

"Us being able to pass the ball like we did [Sunday] allowed us to set up the run," tight end Kevin Boss said. "Usually, we're the opposite."

How long will this last? Hard to say. The Giants have a Pro Bowl receiver in Steve Smith and defenses have changed the way they cover him, allowing Nicks to stand out. Eventually, they'll target Nicks with double-teams and extra safeties. "We haven't really seen it yet," Nicks said.

But that's OK with him. Because in his mind, those defenses haven't seen the best of him yet, either.

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