This time last year, the Giants and Cruz were envisioning big things for him alongside Odell Beckham Jr. in Ben McAdoo's new offense. He was to be the Randall Cobb to Beckham's Jordy Nelson. They were set to take the NFL by storm. Of course, a string of offensive misfires and a steeper learning curve than expected meant that the team didn't really get going until mid-season. By that point, Cruz was already done for the year.
The diagnosis was a torn patellar tendon. He had injured his knee in a brutal shutout loss to the division rival Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6. For the week that followed, Giants fans mourned. The worst case scenario for any given week had unfolded; a humiliating loss to an NFC East foe compounded with a season-ending injury to a star-player. That was the clear-cut low-point of 2014.
But with 2015, comes fresh hope. Cruz has progressed well on his road to recovery and Beckham rose to stardom in his absence, setting the world on fire with a rookie season for the ages. The team, and fans everywhere, are hoping that a symbiotic relationship develops between the two.
In his scheduled media access period this week, Cruz offered up some hints about his rehabilitated knee, comparisons to Beckham, and the upcoming season as a whole. "Everything is still going in the right direction. I'm actually getting more and more comfortable with it as the days go by, so I'm feeling good", said Cruz to open the session, "Yeah, I'm still watching my reps and still making sure I'm progressing the way they want me to, but as far as physically, there's no restrictions on my end. Mentally, there are still certain routes that I'm still getting more comfortable with as I continue to do them within the offense, but from a restrictions standpoint, the training staff has their thing, but I'm pretty much good to go for the most part."
The balance between what Cruz is doing, and what he can do, is an important one. Often times players will push themselves too hard to come back from serious injuries. This is just a necessary arrogance that comes with being a professional athlete, as it's this same fire that fuels their on-field accomplishments. The quest to be super-human, even for a relatively modest player like Cruz, is an undeniable part of the game. Sometimes, it takes a tough trainer to keep the reins on a guy who wants to take off too quickly.
"I know I'm not going to do anything against Cincinnati, throughout practices or anything like that. I'll just do the stuff that we do individually on our end. They don't want me to get over-competitive and go out there and do something crazy. As much as I assured them that I won't, they still won't allow me, so..." said Cruz. He acknowledges that the dangers of pushing too hard, and understands that he's on the same team as the training staff, that it's to their mutual benefit to work together on this one.
What about his teammate? Last year, Beckham missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury, and didn't join the team's line-up until Week 5, but it was the patience to not rush the player back to action which allowed Beckham to set the league ablaze upon his return. This year, Beckham is limited once again, with the same injury. The plan for both of New York's top receivers is the same. " We want to keep guys as healthy as possible as much as possible, so obviously spending more time with [Beckham] ironically battling his hamstring, me with the knee, so we've gotten closer that way. As far as being on the field and battling and competing day in and day out, we want all our guys out there and ready to go" said Cruz. This is, of course, in reference to the regular season, when games matter. Practices, scrimmages and preseason games are not a priority for either receiver.
Both just want to get out there and do their thing. Together. "I think that this offense matches both of our strengths very well, as far as him stretching the field and his route running abilities and my ability to route run between the hashes and make the small play into a big one, which he can do as well. And Rueben [Randle] as well—he stretches the field on the opposite end, so it gives defenses a lot to grab a hold onto come week in and week out, so we're excited, man" said Cruz when asked about his on-field relationship to a superstar like Beckham.
Everyone hopes to be able to focus on how this wide-receiver group will work together, but first, it comes down to their health. Cruz has had back-to-back season-ending injuries. Beckham is yet to play a full-season. Just getting out there and playing is the target right now, so success can only be viewed as a bonus. For many, there is a mental component that comes after injury. There's a reluctance to trust your body, to perform with surgically repaired parts. "Thank God I don't think about it at all. I just go out there and play", said Cruz.
If he's already at the point, where thoughts and What-If scenarios aren't in his mind during play, the New Jersey native may be further along than anyone thought, and the Giants could be ready to take the next step as an offensive unit. In their second year with McAdoo's scheme, the sky is the limit.