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Hakeem Nicks is back with the Giants, who think he can help

"He's been a Giant before," coach Tom Coughlin said about Hakeem Nicks. "It's a different system, but we know the player." Nick Laham/Getty Images

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It didn't end well the first time with Hakeem Nicks and the New York Giants. The former first-round pick and Super Bowl champion wide receiver finished the 2013 season without a touchdown catch. The team was mystified, having spent time and game-plan energy figuring out how to get him going. Those Giants went 7-9, parted with offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and let Nicks leave in free agency without anything more than a cursory offer. No one knew what had happened, but everyone agreed that something had gone wrong and it was time to move on.

At that time, Nicks was 25. Since then, he hasn't done much. He spent one uneventful year in Indianapolis and the first 10 weeks of this season looking for a job before the Giants finally gave him one on their bye week. The Giants' prodigal 2009 first-round pick is still, somehow, only 27 years old.

"He is still a young man, and he does miss it, and he has worked very hard to stay in shape," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Monday. "We knew that when he worked out here the first time."

That was a few weeks back, but last week, when Victor Cruz went on season-ending injured reserve, they decided to give their old friend a shot.

"Hakeem was the best player out there for right now, for the circumstances," Coughlin said. "Matter of fact, he was someone we figured was in the sights of other clubs. Certainly, he's been a Giant before. It's a different system, but we know the player, we know the young man, and quite frankly, he was, in our opinion, the best player out there."

What remains to be seen is how and how much Nicks can help. The Giants ran a completely different offensive system in 2009-13, when Nicks caught 311 passes for 4,622 yards and 27 touchdowns and helped the Giants to their Super Bowl XLVI title. Monday was the first time he has practiced in Ben McAdoo's system, and while he felt and looked comfortable in his old familiar No. 88, it's entirely possible he'll have to spend a week or two on the inactive list while he gets up to speed. He knows that.

"I came in last week and got a head start," Nicks said Monday. "But whatever they need me to do, I'm sure they'll sprinkle me in and get me acclimated. But whatever the coaches need me to do, whatever they need me to be, that's what I'll be."

What can Nicks be? One of the issues in 2013, and last year in Indy, was that he struggled to get separation from defenders. Nicks has always demonstrated great hands and an ability to out-fight defenders for the ball, and he could still do that the past couple of years. But for whatever reason -- the accumulation of leg injuries early in his career or something else -- he wasn't getting open with any consistency.

If that's still a problem, it's possible Nicks can help as a short-yardage or red zone target who can win one-on-one battles in the secondary. As was pointed out Monday, Eli Manning obviously knows him well and has trusted him in the past. He'll feel very comfortable with the quarterback. How that translates to production is anyone's guess. Meantime, Nicks is happy to be home.

"Definitely looking forward to it," Nicks said. "Glad to be back in this position again, playing with Eli again. I look forward to everything that's about to come."