- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With Pro Bowler Victor Cruz manning the slot, it's been difficult for 2011 third-round pick Jerrel Jernigan to earn reps. The Giants aren't going to take away snaps from Cruz, and Jernigan's size suits him best for the slot compared to the outside.
In Sunday's loss to Seattle, Cruz left the game in the third quarter with a concussion and a sprained knee, opening the door for Jernigan to received more snaps. Jernigan cashed in on the biggest opportunity in his career, hauling in a team-best seven catches for 67 yards.
"I just sit back and wait for my turn. My time to shine. Get out there and do the best I can do. Take care of the advantage that I get out there," Jernigan said. "That time came and I tried to go out there and make the most of it no matter what the score was."
With Cruz potentially not playing Sunday against Detroit due to his concussion and sprained knee, Jernigan could be in line for another shot at extended playing time. Jernigan impressed the coaching staff with his toughness and performance in his season-best 24 snaps.
Jernigan missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury but said he will return Thursday and will be fine to play against the Lions.
"It's a great opportunity," Jernigan said. "You saw some of it the last game when [Cruz] went down. Coach put me in and had the confidence to go to me for a couple balls. I can go out and help my team in a big way."
Jernigan's career has been a disappointment thus far, as he has barely seen the field during his three years with the Giants. Entering Sunday, he had totaled just 13 career catches for 114 yards, with 10 of those receptions coming this year. In the previous two games, he played a total of one offensive snap against San Diego and Washington.
In the 23-0 loss, Jernigan showcased the skills that excited the Giants when they drafted him. Quarterback Eli Manning targeted Jernigan eight times and he caught all but one pass. In less than one half of work, Jernigan doubled the amount of receptions Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle combined for in the game.
Manning said Jernigan did a good job, complimenting him on making sound decisions and showing toughness. Giants coach Tom Coughlin echoed those thoughts.
"His toughness was outstanding the other day. Even running his kickoffs up in there, he barreled up in there and got knocked around from side to side, spun around," Coughlin said. "Then the play he made late where the big safety, [Kam] Chancellor, came and stuck him and he spun out of that and kept going. I was inspired by that."
If Jernigan receives extended snaps in the final two games, he's not viewing it as a chance to audition for a larger role in 2014. He said the coaches see him in practice every day and know what he's capable of. Jernigan, however, does believe he turned some heads with his performance against Seattle.
"I think I let the coaches know they can trust me going out there and put me in the game in situations like that," he said.