Commentary

Victor Cruz maximizing time with Eli

Receiver is taking advantage of Hoboken workouts as chance to prove himself

Updated: May 11, 2011, 8:34 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- David Diehl ran a few short patterns across the field and deftly caught passes from Eli Manning and Sage Rosenfels.

In the opening practice of the second week of Manning's lockout passing academy at Hoboken High School in Hoboken, N.J., the New York Giants found a way to work an offensive lineman into a few passing drills.

"I tell you what, Diehl has some pretty smooth hands," Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "For a big guy, he has some smooth hands and feet."

While Diehl has been working on his hands for fun and conditioning, Cruz has been getting invaluable reps with Manning since last week. The second-year receiver gets to run more routes, catch more balls and develop a rapport with Manning more than he would during a normal minicamp or even training camp situation.

Cruz was one of nine Giants to practice with Manning at Hoboken High School, the Giants' new makeshift home away from home.

Tight end Kevin Boss and wide receivers Michael Clayton, Samuel Giguere, Duke Calhoun and Darius Reynaud also participated in Manning's organized workout.

Working within an intimate group allows receivers such as Clayton, Cruz, Giguere, Calhoun and Reynaud extra reps that they would likely never see with Manning unless there were injuries to regulars, such as Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham.

"I think we are getting more accomplished because in practice you got the special-teams stuff and the small stuff and sometimes you are not getting the amount of reps because sometimes guys are in and guys are out," the 6-foot-1 Cruz said. "Being out here with him, he understands the game so well, he has been doing this, he's a Super Bowl champion.

"Just to get some tutelage from him -- where to be on certain routes, where he is looking to throw you the ball on certain routes, the certain depth you should be at -- it is amazing."

Cruz became an overnight fan favorite when he made his pro debut with six receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-16 preseason-opening victory over the Jets last August.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireVictor Cruz played in just three games last season for the Giants.

The undrafted free agent out of UMass finished the preseason with 15 catches for 297 yards and four touchdowns and made the final roster. However, his rookie season consisted of just three regular-season games of special-teams duty because of a hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve prior to the sixth game of the season.

The Giants could have used Cruz later in the season, when Smith and Nicks suffered injuries that kept them out of games.

Cruz said he was fully recovered late in the season, and now he is trying to catch up on all that he missed by using this lockout time to work with Manning and Rosenfels.

"Being out of pads for that long [last year], it was kind of weird trying to get my mojo back," Cruz said. "I feel good now and that is the most important thing."

The Giants receiving corps is pretty crowded at the moment. They have Nicks, Smith and Manningham as the top-three receivers, provided the Giants re-sign Smith as expected. There's also Ramses Barden, Domenik Hixon and Devin Thomas. And the Giants drafted Troy wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan in the third round. Jernigan can play the slot and is expected to contribute on special teams, too.

Cruz very well could be fighting for a roster spot again as he did last year as an undrafted rookie. But there is opportunity, with Smith, Hixon and Barden rebounding from surgeries, and Cruz has displayed intriguing potential. Just ask Rex Ryan.

"I feel like nothing is guaranteed so you kind of go in and treat everything like it is my first time," Cruz said. "I will treat [this year's camp] like it is my first training camp. As long as I can keep myself healthy and be ready to perform, I think I will be fine."

The more work Cruz gets in with Manning now will help him in the long run. That is also why Clayton has been coming to New Jersey from Tampa for the workouts.

Not only does he want to be physically ready in hopes of earning a spot with the Giants but Clayton knows these workouts will help the Giants.

"A lot of us come from out of town to work with Eli because it means that much to have that chemistry," said Clayton, who is a free agent. "A lot of guys are being lazy and sitting around and not doing anything, so why not take advantage of the time to get a jump on the other teams that are out there."

After pretty much missing almost his entire rookie season, Cruz is ready to prove himself all over again. And even during the lockout, he's got a head start by working with Manning.

"To be out here and be getting those heavy reps and stuff like that, having those kind of small groups and running routes, is definitely huge," said Cruz, who lives minutes away from Hoboken in nearby Lyndhurst, N.J. "I will be here every day. I live here, I am not going on vacation."

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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