Victor Cruz may have passed Thursday’s conditioning and medical tests, participated in Friday’s first practice of training camp and gotten cleared to continue forward without any limitations, but the Giants wide receiver said he isn’t “back.” At least not now.
What has to take place for that to happen — for Cruz to feel as if he has fully returned to football, to the Giants, to a career that many think will never return to the heights it once reached?
“I think it’s going to take one play, one of those plays where I feel like I make a move and I make something happen and I catch a ball,” Cruz said Friday after participating in his first full practice since early last season, albeit a somewhat abbreviated workout for the entire team. “I’ll know. I’ll know when it happens, when it comes through. Right now, me just being out here, me running routes, being in the same receiver lines as everybody else, I think that’s the first step to being back.”
There will be more. At least there should be.
In the coming weeks, if all goes well, Cruz will clear a number of milestones. He’ll play against the Giants’ defense in practice, something he hasn’t done since last year’s training camp. He’ll participate in a preseason game, something he hasn’t done in two full years. Then he will attempt to reach the ultimate peak and play in a regular-season game. Perhaps even the opener in Dallas on Sept. 11.
Cruz knows those opportunities lie ahead, but he’s not focusing on them.
“In my mind, I’m just worried about tomorrow,” he said. “I’m worried about the game that is in my mind tomorrow.”
It’s hard to blame him for not wanting to look too far ahead. Last summer, he returned to training camp from a torn patellar tendon in his right knee, only to suffer a left calf injury and repeated setbacks before finally having season-ending surgery.
So this year, during this second attempt at a comeback, he’s more guarded in his optimism.
“I popped up super-early today just to get out here and I feel good about myself and got ready for the day, but the anxiety is definitely setting in,” he said. “I understand that I have to pace myself, I have to take my time. The anxiety is definitely setting in. I just have to take it one day at a time, one route at a time, one period at a time, and continue to build those blocks.”
At the same time, Cruz knows he has to push himself forward. There likely will not be a third comeback attempt.
“I can’t be tentative,” he said. “I have to go out there and let it go. At this point, I’ve been through so much, I have nothing else to hold back from.”
He has plenty to move forward to, though.
“That I can do the things that I once did, that I can do it not just once but be consistent,” he said of what he wants to show this preseason. “Understand what I’m seeing, make those sharp cuts in and out of my break, have that quickness that I once had and prove it all out on the field. This is where I have to prove it right now, to our staff and to my teammates. I want to make sure I’m doing that on a consistent basis.”
And be the same Victor Cruz who dazzled the NFL, became an instant favorite of Giants fans and helped the team win Super Bowl XLVI?
“I think I can be,” he said. “I think I can continue to work to build to that. It definitely remains to be seen just because I haven’t been out here, but as these days progress and go on, that’s the plan. That’s the goal. To be myself.
“If I’m not where I once was,” he added, “I feel like there’s no reason to be out here.”