It wasn't too long ago that Victor Cruz was one of them — a wide-eyed rookie, blowing up in preseason games and just looking to make himself stick onto an NFL roster. That was only 2010, and despite the Pro Bowls and the salsas there's still a tendency to see him like the fresh-faced kid from Paterson. But now, after the departure of most of the receiving corps he broke in with, and after an offseason which left Rueben Randle and 2014 first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. as the primary options on the outside, the 27-year-old Cruz finds himself in a bit of an unfamiliar position: veteran leader.
"I'm still getting used to that V word," Cruz said Tuesday. "But everybody's kind of looking up to me to be the guy, be the leader in the locker room, so I'm just trying to be there for those guys."
When Cruz burst onto the scene, he had guys on the outside who had been through the gauntlet in Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham (fresh off his 60-catch, 944-yard breakout campaign) to ease him into things. But that security blanket has been slowly whittled away — after a disappointing contract year, Nicks bolted for Indianapolis, and Smith and Manningham's tenure with Big Blue fizzled out in a hail of knee injuries. That leaves Cruz as the elder statesman, and it's a role he's learning on the fly while trying to pick up Ben McAdoo's new offense. "
We're a tight-knit group in the receiving room, so they're asking questions," Cruz said. "I ask them questions because we're all still learning too at the same time. But they're doing a good job. They're coming along quicker than usual."
In some ways, there are a lot of parallels between this group and the one from Cruz's rookie season. There's the slot guy with upside (Cruz in 2011, Jerrel Jernigan now) and two relative unknowns on the outside (Randle and Beckham). Those receivers brought the Giants a Super Bowl, despite media criticism that Jerry Reese hadn't done enough in the offseason. It's too early to make those kinds of predictions yet, but Cruz likes what he's seen so far.
"I think guys are really picking up the offense quickly," he said. "They're out there doing what they have to do to prove to the coaches that they can be out there and that they can be accountable and that they know what they're doing."