Cruz Returns To Scene of Promise

Victor Cruz missed the whole 2010 season with a knee injury, but now has a chance to build on last week's spectacular catch against the Jets team he basically won his job against last season.

Victor Cruz isn't perfect, as offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride's caught-on-TV tirade about his route-running technique indicated during last week's 41-13 win over Carolina.

But Cruz made a huge fourth-down catch in that game, too, following a year's sit-down with a knee injury after he basically won a roster spot in the opener against the Jets last year. And on Saturday, he'll have a chance to follow up that catch against a Jets team that he victimized for six catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns.

As far as Cruz is concerned, though, that route-running has to improve before he relaxes about gaining any roster spot this year.

"You know coach Gilbride, if he doesn't yell at you, it means he doesn't love you," Cruz said. "When he's yelling, he expects the best out of you. Correct the mistake, correct it quick, and move on to the next play."

Cruz' mistake, as it turned out, was not that he ran an incorrect play, but the way he did it. He didn't run his route to the proper depth to allow more space for Mario Manningham to operate.

"And there were a few times where Eli (Manning) wanted me to move out or move in, and the clock was running down and I was a little indecisive at that particular moment," he said. "But we talked about it, ironed it out, and (Thursday) we were a lot smoother with the motion."

These are all minor details. But it is attention to details like that which separates bubble players from roster makers. And make no mistake, the opportunity is there for Cruz. After Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and Domenik Hixon, it's pretty much pot-luck on the receiver depth chart.

The Giants will likely keep six receivers on the 53-man roster, and suit up five. Veteran Darius Reynaud, a returner and receiver last year, could take the fourth spot because of his experience. Michael Clayton could be the fifth because of his blocking ability. Cruz, Duke Calhoun, and Jerrel Jerrnigan, then, would battle for the sixth spot. And cutting Jerrnigan, a third-round pick, would be tough simply because of his draft status.

Also, the Giants appear intent on hanging onto former second-rounder Ramses Barden in some form, at least for the time being, as they await his return from last year's broken ankle.

So Cruz could use a repeat of last year's preseason opener right now.

"The sense of urgency is huge right now," Cruz said.

Unlike last season, when he worked with the backups, Cruz is seeing time with the starters. He's in the slot, the same spot where the departed Steve Smith and Manning produced a fantastic chemistry. The former undrafted rookie is now trying to duplicate that feel after an offseason lost to lockout.

"The chemistry those two guys had came from a lot of practices, a lot of time on the field," he said. "I'm trying to condense that time, be a sponge and listen to Eli. Hear what he sees on specific routes and soak up all the information he gives me. Hopefully it projects on the field."

Cruz has four catches for 50 yards, including that 21-yarder on fourth-and-4 from the Chicago 32 that set up Rhys Lloyd's first of two field goals. But he needs to turn it up.

And he knows it. He's known it all camp.

"I was a little bit on eggshells last year," Cruz said, noting the butterflies of the preseason opener and his worry about every step he made. "Obviously, being a free agent, you don't know if you're going to make the team and every day is a struggle for you. Last year was a much harder year, emotionally, than this year.

"But I always approach it that I have to make the 53. This year is a little more attention to detail. It's a different kind of eggshells.

"They don't crack as hard."

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