Jernigan, Murphy step up to the plate

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The biggest story of the Giants' first organized team activities of the offseason was the absence of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

The biggest opportunity went to the wide receivers who got increased reps in their places.

Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan served as the starters in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills, and new addition Louis Murphy saw plenty of action too.

"I saw a flash play here and there. So that’s a good thing," said coach Tom Coughlin, when asked about Jernigan and Murphy.

"He did fine," Coughlin said of Randle. "We haven’t seen a whole lot. Check with me in about five or six practices."

Randle, the team's second-round draft pick in 2012, figured to play a prominent role this season no matter what. He caught 19 passes for 298 yards as a rookie, including two touchdown catches in the final game of last season. Given the departures of Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden, Randle is the clear front-runner to serve as the team's third wide receiver behind Nicks and Cruz.

But Jernigan, the Giants' third-round draft pick in 2011, has just three receptions for 22 yards in two NFL seasons. It's make-or-break time for Jernigan -- and he knows it.

"I’ve been here three years. I know all the offense," Jernigan said. "It’s time for me to go out there and make some plays, contribute to my team."

Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said last week that, with Cruz out, Jernigan would be the Giants' main guy inside at the slot position.

"I think it's about time that he steps up," Gilbride said.

Jernigan had already heard about Gilbride's comments.

"I don’t think there’s pressure," Jernigan said. "I agree with him. It’s time for me to go out there and start making plays."

He had several catches during Wednesday's practice. He was also one of four Giants who returned punts at the start of practice, along with Randle, Aaron Ross and David Wilson.

The Giants drafted Jernigan in part because of his special-teams abilities; the 5-foot-8 speedster had both a kick-return touchdown and a punt-return touchdown in his senior year at Troy. But he has gotten limited opportunities in the return game in his first two seasons with the Giants.

Jernigan revealed that he has made a change to his kick-receiving technique at the coaches' urging -- bringing the ball into his body as opposed to catching it like a pass.

"It’s been coming along very good," he said.

As for Murphy, the Giants signed him as a free agent in March. The 26-year-old was Oakland's fourth-round draft choice in 2009 out of Florida, and he played last season for the Carolina Panthers, with 25 catches for 336 yards. His best season was in 2010, when he caught 41 passes for 609 yards for the Raiders.

Murphy is much bigger than Jernigan (6-2), but speed is his greatest asset. He showed it off Wednesday, getting behind the secondary and hauling in a 50-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning during an 11-on-11 drill.

"That’s what I like to do, stretch the field," Murphy said. "But I can do a lot of things."

Murphy traveled to North Carolina last month to work with his new quarterback at Duke University, and he said he has been studying his new playbook for the past six weeks or so.

"It just felt good to get out there and run through the plays," Murphy said. "[The offense] is definitely a little different, but I like it a lot. It does a lot of different things that work to my benefit."

Nicks and Cruz will be back eventually, but in the meantime, the competition at wide receiver will be among the most exciting things to watch at Giants camp.

Opportunity knocks, and Jernigan and Murphy are the prime candidates to bust through that door.