EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- Hakeem Nicks plans to return to practice on Tuesday after sitting out the last four practices with a groin injury.
Nicks and the New York Giants have been taking a cautious approach this camp to ensure he is at full strength for the season. The receiver said playing in all 16 games in 2013 is critical for not only the Giants offense but his career as well. The receiver is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
"It's important," Nicks said at a commercial shoot for New Era Caps. "My career counts on it, this season counts on it. The offense, just being what I am to the team, I think it is going to make a big difference."
Nicks has never played a full season in his four seasons. He played in 15 games in 2011 and recorded his second straight 1,000-yard receiving season as the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl. But last year, Nicks broke his foot in OTAs and then injured his knee in Week 2 against Tampa Bay. He labored through injuries the rest of the season and finished with just 53 catches for a career-low 692 yards and three touchdowns.
With Nicks slowed by injuries, the Giants offense and the big passing plays suffered and the defending champs failed to make the playoffs. Nicks, 25, has taken a cautious approach this year. Nicks opted not to participate in voluntary OTAs but did not give a reason why other than saying he was taking care of something.
The Giants want to lock up Nicks to a long-term extension but the receiver will likely try to maximize his value and play out this season.
"This is a critical season for me," said Nicks, who has politely declined to discuss his contract with reporters. "I just look at it like I am going out here to play ball. Stay healthy, change my diet a little bit, those are things that I am focused on. I just want to have fun and win every game if we can. That is the main focus."
The Giants offense has the potential to be explosive this season. The team re-signed Victor Cruz to a long-term extension. Running back David Wilson and Andre Brown are going to replace Ahmad Bradshaw and the Giants signed tight end Brandon Myers to give Eli Manning another receiving threat. Second-year receiver Rueben Randle has had an impressive offseason and camp as well.
But a healthy Nicks may very well determine just how good the Giants can be. Last year before injuring his knee, Nicks had 10 receptions for 199 yards and one touchdown against Tampa Bay in Week 2.
Nicks says he can play like that again when healthy.
"I can," Nicks said. "But I can't talk about it. I got to go out and do it."
"I felt real good," he added of his first few practices in camp before injuring his groin. "Honestly, I felt like I had my burst again, I felt like I was in and out of my breaks. I felt my timing was back with Eli the way it normally was."
Nicks isn't sure if he will play in Saturday's preseason opener at Pittsburgh. He said coach Tom Coughlin and the trainers will factor into the decision.
Nicks knows some might be frustrated by the cautious approach this offseason.
"I know the situation," he explained. "I am the one wearing these shoes. So to all the fans, it is not about me being lazy or anything like that. It is about making the right decisions, about making sure that when it is time to go for the season-opening game, I will be full ready to go and it will be on and going from there."
"I know the way I am going to play this game," he later added. "And I am going to be playing it for a long time."