Hakeem Nicks doesn't need to rush

May, 31, 2012
5/31/12
12:30
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Yeah, I get it. You want to look tough for your coach, and you want to make sure you don't feel as though you're letting him down. So I totally get why New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks would tell coach Tom Coughlin that he planned to be back from his broken foot by training camp.

I just don't think it would be very smart of Nicks to try to make good on that promise.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
AP Photo/Matt SlocumThe Giants need receiver Hakeem Nicks, recovering from a broken foot, healthy for the regular season.
I'm not a doctor, and as we've written here before, neither is Nicks. But the original 12-week recovery timetable the Giants set out when they announced the injury last week was arrived at by people who are. Since that news broke, we have seen and heard several testimonials by current and former players with experience with the same injury, and they have corroborated the legitimacy of that timeline. The Giants told our man Sal Paolantonio on Wednesday that, while they appreciated Nicks' optimism, they're fine with the 12-weeks thing and he doesn't need to rush.

He should listen to them. Nicks missing training camp and returning in time for the last couple of preseason games wouldn't be the end of the world for the Giants. Nicks rushing back from a broken foot and re-injuring it, or pulling a calf muscle because he started running too much too soon might be. Any course of action that puts Nicks' availability for regular-season games in jeopardy is foolish, and avoiding it should be his top priority. Because as good as Victor Cruz and Eli Manning are, there's no denying the Giants need Nicks.

As Sal pointed out in that same report, Nicks leads the Giants in receptions, receiving touchdowns and receptions of 25 yards or longer over the past two years. He's been the one constant for Manning in the passing game as the receiver and tight end groups have seen players come and go. He's the player Manning trusts the most in the biggest spots -- say, for example, when you're trying to throw a Hail Mary at the end of the first half in a playoff game in Green Bay. Nicks has missed games because of injury during his brief career, and the Giants have managed to patch things together when that has happened. But if this injury were to worsen or linger deep into this season, that would be a difficult thing for them to overcome.

The Giants' offense is dealing with a number of question marks as it sets itself for its title defense. It must replace the production of No. 3 wide receiver Mario Manningham, who left for San Francisco as a free agent. It must find a way to account for the approximately 40 percent of the running-back carries that Brandon Jacobs got last season before he left for San Francisco as a free agent. And there are serious concerns about the offensive line and what that will look like, as offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride admitted this week.

To combat and overcome these issues, the Giants will do what the Giants do -- lean hard on the elements of their team that are very strong and reliable. Those include Manning, the unflappable, two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback, and to some extent Cruz, who emerged last season as one of the best and most exciting receivers in the game. They'll count on Ahmad Bradshaw's toughness, and hope his feet can stay healthy enough for him and them to overcome the loss of Jacobs. And yes, they'll trust, as they always do, that their coaching staff will be able to find and develop the solutions from within their current roster. But of those aforementioned reliable elements, Nicks is a critical one, and the Giants cannot afford to be without him for any significant number of real games.

So while I understand why Nicks would say what he said to Coughlin, the Giants should hope (and make sure Nicks knows they hope) that it was just brave talk. No good can come of him rushing back. He's not a rookie who has to fight for a spot, learn the offense or develop chemistry with Manning. Nicks is a dedicated worker who believes in the importance of practice, so his desire to get on the field in Albany is likely sincere. But he needs to keep the big picture in mind. Missing training camp is one thing. But pushing yourself too hard to get to training camp before you're ready and then missing real games -- that's something Nicks and the Giants can't afford.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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