Training camp starts tomorrow. Here is the final installment of our position-by-position countdown to Giants camp.
Position: Wide receiver.
Projected starters: Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
Projected reserves: Domenik Hixon, Rueben Randle, Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan.
New faces: Randle, Brandon Collins, David Douglas and Julian Talley.
Going, going, gone: Mario Manningham, Devin Thomas and Michael Clayton.
Player to watch: Cruz. He exploded onto not just the NFL scene last year with a record-setting season but he arguably is one of the most visible and popular Giants players. But Cruz is motivated to prove that he is not a one-hit wonder. Topping 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns will be difficult.
It will be interesting to see how he adapts to more defensive attention this season. Cruz is more experienced and should continue to get better. With Nicks recovering from a broken toe, Cruz will benefit in camp by taking No. 1 reps with Eli Manning.
Last year, he felt pressure to make the team and remain in the NFL. Now he has the pressure to prove that he is a star and should be paid like one since he is in the final year of his contract.
Potential strength: The Giants have one of the best receiving tandems in the NFL with Nicks and Cruz. Nicks is expected to be ready for the season opener and when healthy he is capable of being one of the league’s dominant receivers as evidenced by his seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns against Green Bay in the playoffs. He also had 10 receptions for 109 yards in the Super Bowl and those are the type of big-game performances that could carry over to this season and catapult his game to another level.
With Nicks and Cruz at his disposal, Manning has two playmakers that can break a big play on any throw. Nicks and Cruz combined for 14 plays of 40 yards gained or more on catches last season.
Hixon has the most experience after those two and is the front-runner entering camp as the third receiver. Barden and Jernigan are eager to show what they are capable of and the Giants are excited about Randle. It remains to be seen how many receivers the Giants keep on the roster. Collins has impressed some at OTAs and minicamp. Collins, Douglas, Talley, Isaiah Stanback and Dan DePalma will be fighting for a roster spot.
Potential weakness: The loss of Manningham hurts if the team cannot find a third threat to replace him. Manningham may have been inconsistent at times but defenses had to respect his big-play ability. Nicks and Cruz, especially, benefited from Manningham being on the field.
Manningham also provided the team with a capable starter if Nicks or Cruz had to miss time due to injury. The Giants drafted Randle with hopes that the LSU receiver can replace Manningham. Until he is ready to do so, Hixon is the leading candidate to be the third wideout. But he is returning from a torn ACL for the second straight season so the team will be cautious with him.
Barden and Jernigan hope to show the coaches that they are up to the task in camp. For Barden, this is his biggest opportunity to show that he is worth the third-round pick the Giants spent on him in 2009. This is also a big camp for Jernigan, the team’s third-rounder in 2011. Jernigan has a chance to show he can be the third receiver while also potentially becoming the team’s punt returner as well. But both Barden and Jernigan have limited experience.
Wildcard: Randle. If Randle is everything he’s advertised to be –- NFL-ready with deceptive speed and big-play ability –- the Giants have their third receiver. It remains to be seen how long it will take to become comfortable with Kevin Gilbride’s offense, to learn to react to defensive coverages and adjust to Manning’s audibles. But the coaches and Manning have been impressed with Randle through OTAs and minicamp and they believe he does have the ability to stretch the field.
If Randle doesn’t win the job by the end of camp, he could emerge as a factor as the season goes on. Remember, Cruz didn’t emerge until the third game of the season although he did have two training camps under his belt whereas Randle is going through his first camp.
Tell us what you think of the wide receivers.