Cruz looks different, in more ways than one

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
5:25
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Victor Cruz returned to New York Giants practice on Thursday, but he didn't look quite the same.

Cruz was sporting a red no-contact jersey, which normally only quarterbacks wear. And it didn't even have his number on it. It was a No. 8 jersey instead of a No. 80 one -- likely belonging to former backup quarterback David Carr, who wore No. 8 before getting cut at the end of training camp.

It was a strange sight -- and some teammates gave Cruz grief about it in the locker room after practice.

"Don't touch him!" joked defensive end Justin Tuck, whose locker is nearby.

The Giants are just playing it safe with their star wide receiver, who suffered a neck injury in their last game, a win over the Philadelphia Eagles 11 days ago.

Cruz sat out practice entirely Wednesday, but was listed as limited Thursday, and hopes to practice fully Friday.

On a scale of 1 to 10, "I’m at a cool nine-and-a-half right now," Cruz said. "I feel good. I just want to get another good day of practice in and hopefully I’ll be at a 10 right after that."

With the Giants opening the season 0-6, almost all of the talk about the team this year has focused on what's gone wrong.

Very little has been said about what's gone right -- and Cruz's play belongs at the top of that list. Through half a season, he has 47 receptions for 677 yards and four touchdowns -- putting him on pace for a career-high 94 catches, 1,354 yards and eight scores.

The 26-year-old signed a multi-year contract extension in July, for more than $40 million. But he doesn't appear to have let up one bit.

"Some guys become complacent, some guys get casual about it. He’s been the exact opposite," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Thursday. "Now everywhere we go, everybody doubles him. Everybody’s aware of what he means to us.

"Unfortunately that first game against Dallas showed everybody, you can’t play him one-on-one with some of the stuff we let him do inside. He’s had to contend with double teams -- it reminds me of the old Plaxico Burress, the old Steve Smith, at the height of their careers with us."

Cruz had five catches for 118 yards and three touchdowns back in Week 1 against the Cowboys. With Hakeem Nicks having a down year, Cruz is clearly Eli Manning's No. 1 target now -- and opponents' No. 1 concern. But he has still managed to put up impressive numbers, placing him in the top 15 in the league in both receptions and receiving yards.

But Gilbride brought up another area of Cruz's game on Thursday, unprompted.

"His blocking has been way better than it’s ever been," Gilbride said. "He’s actually gone down and gone out of his way to be an effective blocker, which you need at the position, and he’s done a good job. I’m very proud of the way he’s played."

Cruz said he went into this season "wanting to work on the little things," and make himself into "a well-rounded receiver."

Eight games in, he's gotten the job done.
Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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