Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has a mantra of "next man up." And that's never rang truer for the depleted wide receiver corps.
The physical plight of first-round rookie wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and his ailing hamstring has been well-chronicled, but he isn't alone in making repeated trips to the trainer's room. Victor Cruz (knee), Rueben Randle (hamstring), Jerrel Jernigan (knee) and Trindon Holliday (hamstring) have all missed practice reps or actual preseason games due to nagging injuries.
No players have capitalized on the newfound playing time more than unknown wideouts Corey Washington and Marcus Harris. The duo have turned heads with acrobatic receptions in practice, which have translated to on-field succes in the preseason games. Washington got the ball rolling with his game-winning 73-yard touchdown catch in the Hall of Fame Game victory over the Bills, while Harris kept pace by notching four catches for 49 yards — including a 25-yarder — in the same contest.
"[Washington's] play has been amazing. He makes two or three [spectacular] catches every day in practice," Cruz said. "But it's even better when we see him carry that effort over into actual games."
Coughlin called Harris a "tough kid" for the way the wideout battles through hip maladies to stay on the field.
"He's had some nicks, but he is out there every day," Coughlin said. "He works hard at it, he goes hard on special teams and he catches the ball well whenever he gets the opportunities. He's usually in the right spots, too."
Harris' story is similar to Cruz's as he's gone from anonymity as a practice-squad player for Big Blue to gaining some buzz when the lights are bright. Because of his journey, Harris said he feels as if he's already battled-tested and able to help the Giants if he's fortunate enough to make the 53-man roster.
"I don't feel pressure because I've been a professional wide receiver for a little bit now," said the former standout at Murray State, who spent most of 2013 on the Giants' practice squad after brief stints with the Lions and Titans since coming into the league in 2011. "I believe that I belong anytime I run with the [starters]. But when I do, it feels really good because it helps my mindset. Being undrafted and being on the practice squad last year to now getting a shot to run with them is very important to me. ... I belong."
Washington belongs, too, according to anyone asked. Veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie cetainly vouched for the former Newberry College star, by way of Georgia Military College, after going against the tallest (6-foot-4) Giant receiver on the roster on a daily basis.
Rodgers-Cromartie said he'd be "surprised if Corey doesn't make this team."
New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo wouldn't go as far as inking Washington's name on the final roster, but has been highly impressed.
"Corey's a big man that can run and go get the football," McAdoo said of the receiver who was awarded to the Giants this spring via waivers after he was signed and waived within a 15-day period by the Cardinals. "That size is a good place to start. He's a young guy who has a lot to learn, but he's really done some special things. ... It'll be exciting to see him grow."
As much as it's beneficial to hear praises from the coaching staff, both wideouts really appreciate what Cruz has to offer them.
"I'm always pulling for the no-name guys that kind of make it through the ranks, because I was once there," said Cruz. "I was in their shoes and I know what it feels like and know exactly the things they're going through in their minds."
That type of understanding and burgeoning camaraderie is what tends to make the young wideouts brighten up anytime discussing the budding friendship and apprenticeship being offered by Cruz.
"The Victor Cruz story motivates me. He's a smaller guy, came from a small school [Massachusetts], was on the verge of getting cut, made some plays [in the preseason] and now he's the veteran of this corps. He's making a lot of money and making a lot of plays," said Washington. "Victor's like a big brother to me. He said, 'This is your chance, so go out there and show these boys what you've got and give them a hard time making a decision once cut time comes.'"
Harris relayed a similar message.
"It's a great thing to have a guy like that because he knows exactly where we're coming from because he was us before," said Harris. "It's a big ego boost because, one, he's a great friend and good person to look up to. And, also because we all just respect him a lot for what he's done."
The Giants still have three more preseason games remaining, which means at least three more chances to prove they should make the final 53-man roster.
"They've both really taken advantage of their opportunities and are killing it in practice and making it happen in games, but there's still lots more to do and learn before the season starts," noted Cruz, who can talk from experience, as his breakout 2010 preseason culminated with him not making an impact in just three regular season games without a reception. "I tell them that there's very little room for error. They need to catch everything thrown their way. No drops. They need to know every assignment. Need to stay in the playbook and know it inside and out. And go out there and perform every day. It's important to not have any mental errors and to know techniques. And if you have technique problems, those are correctable, but just don't have [mental] lapses [because] you can't afford any mental errors when you're a rookie free agent or a fringe guy. ... There's still lots to be learned but that being said, so far, so good with them."
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.