If Eli Manning and his new receivers worked in the corporate world, it would be an easy fix. Some human resources guru would bring them out in the woods where they would fall backward into each other's arms. They would return from their weekend retreat with a newfound level of trust.

But this is football, and trust cannot be faked or forced through gimmicks. It must be earned. So less than a month after losing two of his most trusted targets to free agency, Manning is working on forging a relationship with the players the team says he must now throw passes to. It's been a struggle at times, and has led to some unsightly football even by preseason standards.

Manning, though, is convinced that eventually they will get there.

"It might not always be perfect and smooth, but you have to grow with these guys," the quarterback said Tuesday, a day after his third preseason game without a touchdown pass and a second one in which the starting offensive unit could not reach the end zone. "You have new guys come in, you have to let them grow up. You want them to do good things and they are going to do good things. But they're also going to make mistakes and you're going to have to live and die with that."

Manning said he's comfortable with his on-field relationship with Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. Beyond that, though, there are still some bumps, particularly with third-year tight end Travis Beckum and second-year receiver Victor Cruz, who was sidelined most of last season and had his best performances last preseason on passes from backup quarterbacks.

Those two are in essence replacing Kevin Boss and Steve Smith, players Manning probably trusted more than direct deposit. Over the years, Manning said, Boss and Smith had seen so many defenses and run so many routes that it became second nature to them.

"What you lose is experience," Manning said of playing without them. "What you lose is some brainpower at receiver . . . They're not having to think much out there, they're just reacting. They practiced, they repped, they thought about every situation that might happen. That's what we're trying to build on."

After Monday night's loss to the Jets, Manning said he didn't think the lack of an offseason program is affecting the on-field product this preseason. But it's hard to believe it couldn't. Not only did the Giants lose Smith and Boss some four weeks before the regular season was to start, with little to no time to find replacements outside the roster, Manning did not have much of a chance to work out the kinks with the young receivers.

What can a young receiver do to earn the trust of a veteran quarterback like Manning? "You have to be where you are supposed to be at the exact time and proper depth," Tom Coughlin said. "You have to be able to react to the world around you to make the proper adjustments."

Coughlin said he sees varying degrees of trust between Manning and his receivers. "I think he does have it with any number of guys," he said. "I think he is gaining it with some of the others."

Those gains will have to hurry. The Giants open the regular season Sept. 11. Manning said he's confident the trust will be there. "We're ready," he said. "There's still work to do . . . I think the guys are ready. We're looking forward to getting started."

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