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Victor Cruz is away, so Jerrel Jernigan will play

Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan runs with the ball

Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan runs with the ball after making a catch during Giants training camp in Albany, N.Y. (July 29, 2012) Credit: Hans Pennink

One man’s contract dispute is another man’s opportunity, so, third-year wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan knows now is the time to make an impression on the Giants’ coaching staff while Pro Bowl receiver Victor Cruz sits out during contract negotiations. Jernigan was the “Z” receiver in place of Cruz during Wednesday’s first OTA practice of the spring.

Recently, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride suggested it’s time for the third-year wide receiver out of Troy University to begin showing he can be a productive player. “I’ve been here three years,” Jernigan said. “I know all the offense. It’s time for me to go out and make some plays and contribute to my team. I understand where he’s coming from.”

Asked if Gilbride spoke to him directly, Jernigan said, “Somebody told me…I don’t think it’s pressure. I’m going into my third year, so, I agree with him. It’s time for me to start making plays.”

In addition to catching passes, Jernigan was one of four players auditioning to return punts along with Reuben Randle, Aaron Ross and David Wilson. He’s ditched his old habit of trying to catch the ball in his hands like a pass and now is learning to cradle it to his body with both hands.

Jernigan said it came as a surprise when the other starting wide receiver, Hakeem Nicks, failed to show up for the voluntary workout, but he took it as another opportunity. It was the first time in three seasons, Jernigan said, that he got to spend an entire practice catching passes from Eli Manning with the first unit.

Asked if anything held him back earlier in his career, Jernigan said, “The first year, it was the playbook. I’m coming from where it was a four-wide offense, straight passing all the time to this pro-style offense. Last year, I learned a little bit more. This is my third year, so I know the whole offense. Ain’t no excuses this year. I have to go out and perform.”

The highlight of the team session actually was a pass that Jernigan didn’t catch. He ran a fly route down the left sideline and was covered man-to-man by cornerback Prince Amukamara. Manning’s pass was right on target, but Amukamara was step-for-step with Jernigan and went up to knock it down.

“I was trying to gather myself to go up and get it,” Jernigan said. “Going down the field, I kind of got tangled up and it stopped me from jumping up. I couldn’t really get up. He did a good job of following me all the way down the field.”

Amukamara’s take on what happened went like this: “Jernigan is a very fast receiver. I was kind of surprised that I was still by him. I don’t know if he slowed down. But in the offseason, our focus was more on reading the quarterback’s three-step [drop] and then put our eyes back on the receiver. I thought I brought that onto the field. Jernigan kept going, so, I opened up and tried to run as fast as I could. I saw the ball at the last minute. That’s why I missed it.”

Despite missing a chance for an interception, it was the kind of play the third-year cornerback from Nebraska hopes to make on a regular basis in the fall. Asked if covering the backup receivers was a little different than facing facing starters Cruz and Nicks, Amukamara said, “It’s more different for the offense, although Cruz and Nicks do bring a lot of energy and that competitive nature. But we can’t worry about that. You just have to work with the guys that are out there.”
 

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