Victor Cruz's professional life rests on the results of this upcoming week. It’s the biggest week of the New York Giants wide receiver’s career since the summer of 2010, when he needed an enormous preseason performance against the New York Jets to introduce himself to the world.
And whom do the Giants play later this week? The Jets, of course. The perfect stage for Cruz's reintroduction.
Cruz is trying desperately to return to game action this week for the first time in almost two years. He’s been dealing with a nagging groin problem this summer, on the heels of calf and knee injuries the previous two years. It has been almost two weeks since Cruz last finished a practice, and almost two years since he last appeared in a game.
The former Pro Bowl receiver will practice on Monday, when the Giants run a light workout centered on conditioning and correcting their errors from a 21-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills over the weekend. Cruz didn’t play on Saturday, but he did participate in warm-ups and run some routes before the game. That was considered a significant step in his comeback.
“We're going to put [Cruz] back out there,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “He got some work in [Sunday], as he did in the pregame [Saturday]. We're going to put him back out there and we're going to let him work back into it.”
This week is monumental for many reasons. If Cruz can’t get through the five days of work and play Saturday against the Jets, it’s the latest sign that his legs are unwilling to cooperate. They have refused to keep pace with his mind and heart for more than a year.
First, it was Cruz’s patellar tendon in his knee, then it was his calf and his groin. He’s hoping this is the turning point in his comeback.
But that may be wishful thinking given the recent evidence. The struggle to keep his legs healthy and fresh is real.
If the Giants are to have any clue about what they’re getting from Cruz this season and beyond, they need to see him on the field. And not just for parts of practice or in a limited capacity, as has been the case for much of this summer. They need to see him practice at full speed and without limitations for an extended period of time. Then, maybe, they can determine what he can bring to the table once the season rolls around.
Until then, it’s all speculation and wishful thinking. Cruz hasn’t played in a game since Oct. 12, 2014.
McAdoo conceded last week he hasn’t been able to make an evaluation on Cruz this summer. That’s not encouraging. The Giants reported to training camp almost a month ago.
Attitude and efforts have not been the problem. Cruz has remained optimistic and dedicated. But he can talk all he wants, warning the world to “tune in” or saying it would be a “terrible move” to count him out, but until he shows something on the field, it’s nothing but words. Actions are all that count now.
Even when Cruz was practicing earlier this summer, the results were uninspiring. He still didn’t come close to resembling the Victor Cruz of old. And while that version of Cruz is likely never returning (it seems unrealistic given a variety of factors including injury history and age), a slightly reduced version wasn’t on the field at Giants practice either.
Cruz hasn't done enough this summer based solely on on-field performance to warrant a roster spot. He’s been outplayed by the likes of undrafted rookies Roger Lewis, Darius Powe and even French import Anthony Dable. If he can't get through this week, the Giants need to think long and hard about whether he's worth a roster spot because there is no recent evidence to suggest he is.
Right now, Cruz is banking on past success to provide hope. Once upon a time, he was the underdog trying to make the Giants roster. And he did, plus more. Cruz made a Pro Bowl, won a Super Bowl and became a superstar with his explosive cuts and catchy salsa dancing.
Well, life has come full circle. Almost two years after he tore his patellar tendon in Philadelphia, Cruz is attempting to write another improbable tale.But it’s likely only going to be possible if he makes it through this week, and perhaps impresses as he did in the summer of 2010 against the Jets.