EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On Saturday, I found myself standing near a New York Giants training camp drill, one that pitted wide receivers and defensive backs in one-on-one routes in the red zone. As I oriented myself after stops at four other camps in the past week, something caught my eye: a Giants receiver wearing blaze orange cleats.
This seemed relevant. Only the superstars wear kicks that pop like that, as the kids say. Looking closer, it was none other than Victor Cruz -- a onetime luminary attempting a comeback from two serious injuries that have cost him 26 consecutive games over the past two seasons.
The crowd, gathered behind me, began to murmur. Both the Giants and their fans want to know if Cruz can get back this season, or if he'll follow the path of many who suffered the kind of injury he did (torn patellar tendon in 2014) and never regain his previous form.
Cruz lined up against Eli Apple, the Giants' first-round draft pick and an exciting player himself. The two went at it twice in the drill.
On the first rep, Cruz slowly pushed toward the corner of the end zone. Apple stayed with him and then jumped over Cruz's shoulder to knock down the pass.
One the second, Cruz made a decent inside cut, but Apple wasn't fooled and left quarterback Eli Manning with the tiniest of windows to throw. The ball was low and Cruz couldn't snag it.
An optimist would say that Apple more than held his own against an experienced veteran who caught 241 passes in three full seasons before his injury.
A cynic would say Cruz looked slow and hesitant.
As a realist, I'd say Cruz didn't show the traits of a dynamic playmaker in that drill and, based on others' observations, at any other time this summer. It remains early in training camp, of course, and Cruz has missed an extraordinary amount of time. But at the very least, it seems safe to say he has significant ground to make up before the Giants can count on him to help them this season.
To their credit, I don't think the Giants are operating under any illusions here. Coach Ben McAdoo used measured words when I asked him how he thought Cruz has looked this summer.
"He's knocking the rust off," McAdoo said. "He's out there. He's in the mix. He took a couple shots the other day and popped right back up. So that was good to see."
I asked McAdoo if he thought it would be a long process for Cruz to finish knocking off that rust.
"No," McAdoo said. "We look forward to seeing him let it rip."
Indeed, it would be natural for a player working his way back from a severe injury -- especially Cruz, who tore his calf muscle last summer as he tried to come back from the knee injury -- to take it slowly. What we don't know is if Cruz is smartly taking his time, or if he simply doesn't have that extra gear anymore. At some point, the Giants are going to need to see another gear.
Cruz is one of the NFL's good guys, and it's easy to root for his return. But it's also important to be realistic. His road back remains long, if still attainable.