EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks did some work during practice Sunday -- all of it on a field separate from the rest of his team, catching a few passes, working with a trainer as he continues to sit out with a sore groin. Leg injuries hampered Nicks severely in 2012, then he skipped OTAs and was limited in minicamp this spring. So it's really been a very long time since the Giants have been able to work with their No. 1 wide receiver at full strength.
I spoke with Giants quarterback Eli Manning last week and asked him what the big deal was. He and Nicks have played together long enough and have had so much success together that they shouldn't be too worried about missed practice time, right? Manning did that thing where he wrinkles his face before he answers. (Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.)
"We really haven't practiced," Manning said. "Last year, he was limited a lot in practice, not getting a lot of reps during the season. We would have good games and bad games just depending on how he was feeling. So you'd like to get him back into practice, just because it's been so long, and you're injured and you can get into some bad habits. So just kind of work on those kinks, work on the timing, see what his speed is compared to last year now that he's healthy... you've just got to work on all of those things."
But they can't, because Nicks isn't practicing, and to hear Manning tell it, that's not something they can sweep under the rug. Regardless of the high expectations for -- and strong early-camp reviews of -- second-year receiver Rueben Randle, he's got a long way to go before we know whether he possesses the instincts for the position that Nicks does. Randle could be a very good NFL wide receiver and still not be Nicks. Manning and the rest of the Giants know what Nicks brings to the offense, and they missed it last year. The fact that he's not on the field with the rest of them in early August is stirring up those old, uncomfortable feelings again.
"Coming off a season like last year, I just want to be cautious about it and make sure I'm able to perform when it's really time and it really counts," Nicks said.
And fine. Maybe that's all this is. Maybe this is one of those early-camp injury issues that we won't even remember when Nicks is outfighting defensive backs for Manning's deep passes in September and October, rolling up big numbers in his contract year. That's certainly a possibility. But because it's Nicks, and because it's a leg problem, and because it's been so long since any of us can remember when he didn't have some sort of leg injury... well, it's a legitimate concern until he gets back into practice.