Giants, still worried about Victor Cruz, hedged their bet drafting Sterling Shepard - Metro US

Giants, still worried about Victor Cruz, hedged their bet drafting Sterling Shepard

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The Giants and their ardent fanbase have been waiting for years to see if former franchise wideout Victor Cruz will return to form.

It’s been so long since Cruz graced the field and salsa danced all over opponents that he’s been supplanted as the team’s franchise receiver and there’s even a new coaching regime in place.

The Giants’ brass is counting on Cruz to show some resemblance of his former self, when he was torching defenses as arguably the best inside-outside threat in the league. Management hedged its bet on getting back a 100 percent Cruz by selecting former Oklahoma wideout Sterling Shepard in the second round of the draft. Shepard (5-foot-10) is similar to Cruz (6-foot), as he poses problems in the slot and on the perimeter and is as slippery as he is capable of breaking tackles and accumulating yards after the catch.

The drafting of Shepard may not be a total indictment on the Giants’ faith in a full Cruz recovery, but it at least covers their bases in case he can’t.

For his part, the venerable Cruz said he can only concern himself with his progress and make sure he’s finally available for a prolonged run when the season begins.

“The key is to stay ready for all 16 [games] and not just Week 1,” Cruz said during the team’s recent organized team activity. “We just have to stay the course, and be ready for the long haul.”

The long haul, should Cruz last, could be a really effective Giants’ receiving corps. While the unit lacks cumulative size — with the average size being 5-foot-11 of the projected wideouts in the rotation — it could be one the more explosive outfits in the league. Odell Beckham Jr. will continue to do Beckham things, Shepard was a highly-rated addition and Dwayne Harris was a solid contributor last season. But the real key to Ben McAdoo’s passing game could be how well — and how long — Cruz contributes.

Cruz hasn’t played since Week 6 in 2014, so he’s the ultimate wild card. McAdoo’s offense stresses quickly getting the ball in the hands of his wideouts so they can make plays and garner yards after the catch – a one-time strong suit of Cruz’s game.

The Giants don’t have physically imposing wideouts, meaning McAdoo and his staff will need to get creative with formations and alignments that maximize the talents of the players they do have. Cruz mastered getting open against some of the biggest and most physical cornerbacks in the league. He and Eli Manning made a living off the quick, short passes — due to Cruz’s explosiveness. But it remains to be seen if he still has that burst. Should the Giants get that version, however, they’ll rival any passing attack.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan has been around Cruz for many years and is as big a supporter as there is on the team. He’s pulling for a full recovery, especially since he admitted that moving his receivers around, particularly Beckham and Cruz, is a big key to the offense’s success.

“We teach them all the spots. The more we can make our system schematically friendly so that guys aren’t necessarily locked in … and can have that versatility, it helps,” Sullivan said. “Because ultimately, when guys start to become a factor, you move them around. Odell and Victor were great examples of that.”

Cruz and the Giants agreed to rework his once-bloated deal, two months ago, going from $7.9 million to $3 million this season, with performance-based incentives for an additional $2.5 million.

The base salary may be a bit much for a guy who hasn’t played in over 17 months, but within the facilities, the Giants are certainly in the rare position of rooting for a guy they’d be happy to overpay.

Big Blue notes:

  • Even if Cruz remains healthy, the Giants have been working diligently with a few projects at the wideout position in hopes of bolstering its corps. There’s Anthony Dable, a 6-foot-4 receiver from France; Geremy Davis, a 6-foot-2 2015 sixth-rounder; and Darius Powe, a 6-foot-3 undrafted rookie free agent out of California.

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