October 12, 2014. That’s the night Victor Cruz crumpled to the ground in the corner of end zone at Lincoln Financial Field after tearing a patellar tendon trying to catch a pass from Eli Manning. That remains the last time we have seen Cruz in an NFL game and the image of him, hands covering his face to hide his agony while being carted off the field, is seared into the memory of New York Giants fans.
Since that night Cruz, at least in public, has been unfailingly optimistic. Throughout the arduous rehab from the patellar injury, one which has destroyed a number of NFL careers, he remained positive. A training camp calf injury that never healed derailed his 2015 comeback. Yet in video after video and interview after interview Cruz, while admitting the difficulty of the journey, has remained his sunny self. He has always expressed confidence that he can return to playing at a high level.
In a video posted while walking around a neighborhood a couple of days prior to reporting for camp, Cruz once again said he will prove the doubters wrong.
“This past year and a half has been unbelievable, a lot of ups, a lot of downs. But I truly feel like there's another up for me,” a strolling Cruz says in the video. "My ears are to the streets. I know all the naysayers, I hear all the people saying I can't do it or doubting me. I've proved people wrong before and I'm excited to prove people wrong again."
The complete video is below.
"I hear people saying I can't do it ... I've proved people wrong before" - @TeamVic is ready to prove doubters wronghttps://t.co/jWcY1x9ppI— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) July 26, 2016
Undeniably, yours truly has been one of those naysayers. I won’t run from that, not after predicting that both rookie Sterling Shepard and veteran Dwayne Harris will catch more passes than Cruz in 2016. Or after listing Cruz as one of the players who could be a stunning cut by the Giants if he doesn’t show enough this preseason.
Make no mistake, I’m rooting for Cruz. He has meant too much to the Giants franchise, to Giants fans, to his Paterson, N.J. community and he has worked too hard not to hope he returns and has at least some modicum of success.
“My only goal is to go out there and perform and be my old self again,” Cruz said Friday after participating in practice.
It is hard for me to believe, though, that two incredibly serious leg injuries have not robbed Cruz of some of the quickness and ability to cut on a dime that made him special.
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal is also uncertain about Cruz, listing him a few days ago as one of 25 big-name players on the roster bubble as training camps open around the league.
The organization is rooting for him. His teammates are rooting for him. Just about anyone who watched football between 2011 and 2013 is hoping for a rebound from one of the most popular players of this decade.
Sentiment only goes so far, though. Cruz already would be an ex-Giant if he didn't accept a pay cut from $7.9 million to $2.4 million in March. The undrafted slot receiver tore his patellar tendon in 2014 and missed all of 2015 with calf injuries. There is no telling if he can ever regain his form, and the Giants aren't counting on it. General manager Jerry Reese drafted a younger Cruz clone in Sterling Shepard, another versatile receiver with excellent quickness and confident hands.
The Giants guaranteed Cruz's $2.4 million base salary, an extraordinary show of faith that most front offices wouldn't dare. After taking his recovery slowly in OTAs, Cruz must prove he can withstand the rigors of NFL play again, or his Cinderella run in Gotham could end.
Which brings us to 2016 training camp
Cruz was given the green light after Thursday’s conditioning test to join his teammates when Friday’s first training camp practice was held. As you can see from the video below, he did so.
WATCH: Welcome back to #GiantsCamp @TeamVic! https://t.co/9yr4TdNBl5— New York Giants (@Giants) July 29, 2016
ESPN’s Jordan Ranaan tweeted that “it does not appear Victor Cruz has been limited at all.” I would take that to mean he did everything his teammates did, not that he looked like the 2011-2012 version of Cruz.
He reportedly worked during practice as both the second-team slot receiver behind Shepard and in some three-receiver sets with Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr. The did no 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 work, so Cruz never lined up against a defender.
Cruz, of course, was a primary post-practice topic of conversation. All of what we heard from Cruz and coach Ben McAdoo sounded eerily similar to what we heard from and about Cruz at the beginning of camp in 2015.
“He looked fine out here running routes,” said coach Ben McAdoo. “He practiced full today.”
Cruz admitted that “the anxiety is setting in” and thet he work up “super early” Friday morning anticipating practice.
Cruz said he “felt pretty good” during the workout.
“Obviously the true test is when we get some defense out there,” Cruz said. “I felt pretty good, I feel confident on my routes. I hope it looked that way.”
What does Cruz hope to prove to himself at this point?
“That I can do the things that I once did,” he said. “That I can do it not just once but be consistent. Understand what I’m seeing, make those sharp cuts in and out of my breaks, have that quickness that I once had.”
What will it take to prove to himself that he is still the Victor Cruz of old, not just an old, injured Victor Cruz?
“I think it’s gonna take one play,” Cruz said. “One of those plays where I feel like I make a move and I make something happen and I catch the ball. I’ll know. I think I’ll know when it happens.”
Will it happen? Who knows? We have been down this road before with Cruz, and heard all of these same things. To have a happy ending, though, we need to see results, not just hear optimistic words.
WATCH: @TeamVic on returning to #GiantsCamp practice and his outlook for 2016 https://t.co/sp9sXdqPO0— New York Giants (@Giants) July 29, 2016