EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Hey, if Tom Coughlin's going to play the part of the cranky football coach, at least he's honest about it. The New York Giants' coach said after Thursday's practice that wide receiver Hakeem Nicks hasn't been in touch about the reason he's been skipping voluntary workouts, and Coughlin made it clear that he's unhappy about it.
"Am I disappointed? No, I'm glad," Coughlin cracked when asked whether Nicks' absence was disappointing to him. "Certainly I am [disappointed]. At one point, Hakeem told me he was going to be here, and he was not here. Now, in the strictest interpretation, everyone knows it's a voluntary program."
It is that, and there's nothing in the rules that requires Nicks to tell Coughlin why he's not in attendance. Fellow star wide receiver Victor Cruz is also missing voluntary workouts, but everyone knows that's because he and the team are in a contract dispute. Nicks' absence compounds Coughlin's annoyance over not having his full team on the field for practices he considers important. My sense is that he's not annoyed at the players involved as much as he is about his own inability to compel them to be here.
"It'd be great to have all of our guys working and feeling good about the progress we're making. That's from a coach's perspective," Coughlin said. "You deal with some of this pretty much on a yearly basis, and it's a product of our system, and that's the way it is. I can complain all I want, but nevertheless it is our system."
The Giants' mandatory minicamp runs from June 11-13, and if Cruz and Nicks aren't in attendance for that, then this becomes a bigger deal. It's a bit funny to imagine how upset Coughlin would be with these guys in a situation that actually allowed him to be.
Anyway, I watched the practice, and the two wide receivers who stood out as fill-ins were Louis Murphy and little 5-foot-11 Brandon Collins, who got a surprising number of first-team reps (a lot in the slot) with Eli Manning throwing to him. The opportunity to catch passes from Manning, as opposed to one of the other quarterbacks on the Giants' roster, is one the younger, newer receivers have to enjoy, as it can only make them look good. It also helps that Manning is constantly chattering at his receivers, before and after every play, about things they do well and things they can do better. He too wishes Nicks and Cruz were here, but they're not, so he's turning his energy and attention to the guys who actually are.
"Every day, I treat it like a game, and I'm just trying to make our offense better," Manning said. "Trying to get everybody out there who's here working hard, get them where they're doing things correctly and making plays for us."
Look, if the Giants have to play without Nicks or without Cruz, they're going to struggle. If they find themselves in a situation where they had to play without either of them, they'd be toast. I fully respect Manning's ability to get the most out of whatever receivers he has. Heck, Cruz was an undrafted free agent, right? Steve Smith caught 107 passes from Manning in Cruz's slot position in 2009. But Nicks and Cruz are both proven at a high, championship level in the NFL, and guys like Murphy and Jerrel Jernigan and Rueben Randle simply aren't. The Giants need their big guys to make their passing game run. We're an awfully long way from a time at which you need to be concerned that they might not have them, but it's obviously of at least some concern right now to their coach.