CINCINNATI - There's only one thing left on Victor Cruz's to-do list before he can declare himself fully returned. After surprising many by participating in Wednesday's joint practice against the Bengals and getting about a half-dozen reps in live contact situations, all that remains for him is getting into an actual game.
"I think that's pretty much it,'' Cruz said. "Game speed, game activity, getting tackled and getting up and getting back to the huddle for the next play. Getting a rhythm. I think that's next.''
That would be the last hurdle in an 11-month obstacle course that will have taken him from writhing in pain on the field in Philadelphia with a torn patellar tendon to, if things continue to go according to plan, playing against the Cowboys in the regular-season opener Sept. 13.
"I felt good,'' Cruz said after the workout. "I just wanted to play. I was just looking at the defense and it felt like a normal everyday thing. Just another team in front of you.''
While Odell Beckham Jr. was putting on a show, frustrating Bengals defensive backs and scoring several touchdowns in drills, Cruz ran only three routes and was targeted just once. He did not catch a pass. Nor will he tomorrow night, when he will not play against the Bengals in the preseason opener. But clearly progress was made in Cincy.
"Coming out here I understood what we were doing and taking it easy in terms of what I would be doing individually,'' he said. "But I wanted to get a little bit against them, get a little bit of a challenge and a little bit of head-to-head things against them. I did that today.''
He looked sharp making a cut on an out route against Bengals corner Darqueze Dennard, but Eli Manning wound up being flushed from the pocket and threw the ball in the other direction.
"It felt good, man,'' Cruz said. "I knew I had that route coming up and I wanted to make it my best one. I was happy with the route and happy I came out unscathed.''
Cruz was limited to Giants-only reps on Tuesday, the first day the team practiced with the Bengals. Tom Coughlin said he wanted to get a handle on how the practices would feel before exposing Cruz to the action.
"That was the decision that we made, or I made, coming out here that we would go ahead and look at practice the first day and then decide how much,'' Coughlin said. "So we got him in there a couple of snaps each segment with the exception of the end there. It's good for him to come out here and get on the field again against somebody else.''
Now comes that final step.
"I'd love at least one game, a couple of snaps,'' he said of this preseason. "Whatever they feel is right. But I want to get a little bit of work in and get tackled a few times and see how it feels.''
Then, and only then, will he truly be back.