The Giants officially kicked off the 2013-14 season with organized team activities (OTAs) Wednesday as veterans joined the minicamp participants who were lucky enough to earn a spot on the camp roster.
Conspicuous by their absences, however, was the Giants’ starting pair of wideouts, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz’s contract saga is well-publicized, so it wasn’t a huge surprise he didn’t attend. But Nicks’s absence was met with a testy response from head coach Tom Coughlin, who expected his veteran receiver to be front and center when the first unit was on the field.
“He should be here,” Coughlin said when asked about Nicks’s no-show.
It’s unknown the reason for Nicks’s absence, but perhaps it had to do with safety precautions, since the former first-round pick endured an injury-riddled 2012-13 season. Nicks broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot during last year’s OTAs, and judging by the many slips on the slick outdoor practice field and an apparent knee injury to fullback Henry Hynoski, perhaps Nicks was clairvoyant in avoiding the session.
Coughlin wouldn’t allow for Nicks perhaps using last season’s foot injury as a reason to skip the workouts, saying that even if that was the case, the Giants would’ve taken the necessary precautions with their prized wideout.
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“He would have some kind of limitations, I'm sure,” said Coughlin. “But that's not the reason [he's not here].”
Eli Manning, ever one to shy away from controversy, wanted no part of the sagas that currently plague his wideouts, but did allow he was shocked to find out Nicks no-showed.
"I had no reason to think he wasn't going to be here," Manning said.
Ever the optimist, though, Manning used Cruz’s and Nicks’s absences as a teachable moment for the other wideouts in attendance and said he still used the session as a way to bond with them and get them important repetitions.
“Right now, I’m just worrying about myself, and executing. The guys that are here, we’re just trying to make sure that everybody gets better and up to speed, especially the young guys getting involved,” Manning said. “It was good getting everybody who was here a lot of reps and involved, and having time with them. So whoever is on the field, we expect them to play and perform at a high level. ... The more guys you have who are experienced and ready to go and play different positions, the better off you’re going to be.”
About the only thing Manning said about Nicks’s absence that hinted at disappointed was when he was asked if he could understand guys missing time for health reasons – should that ultimately be the case for Nicks.
“You want to make sure guys are healthy at the start of the year, but there’s also a time to get work in also and improve,” Manning allowed. “You have to rep things and make sure you’re playing at our best. That involves being healthy, but also involves practicing and getting reps.”
One guy who certainly doesn’t mind the extra reps is third-year wideout Jerrel Jernigan. The former Troy star has been mostly used as a return specialist, but with the absences of the star wideouts, Jernigan ran with the first unit, alongside newcomer Louis Murphy.
Jernigan has taken incremental steps during his time in New York, so he’s looking forward to really taking advantage of the newfound playing time.
“It’s wide open and we’re all competing. I’m putting in a lot of work,” said Jernigan. “This year, going into my third season, it’s time to go out there and make plays and prove myself. Until [Cruz] comes back I’ll be the ‘Z’ [the wideout closest to the tight end] and try to make plays.”
Jernigan has only registered three catches for 22 yards in his career — all coming last season — so he’s a longshot to steal any playing time from the veterans when they finally report. But the speedy 5-foot-9 wideout doesn’t lack confidence when expressing his desire to do more on the offensive end, so he doesn’t get typecast as merely a return specialist.
“My confidence is always high. I never get down on myself. I know what I can do, and been playing this game since I was 7 years old. I go out there every day and put in work, no matter if I’m a starter or whatever,” Jernigan said. “The first year was the playbook, because [in college] we were running four-wides [four wide receiver offense], and then I came here into a pro-style offense. Last year I learned a little bit more, and now this year, my third year, I know the whole offense. … There’s no excuses now. I just need to go out and perform.”
Big Blue notes ...
» Hynoski was carted off the field on the second play from scrimmage with an apparent knee injury and will undergo an MRI to see the extent of the damage.
» Former first-round pick Aaron Curry was very enthusiastic during Wednesday’s session. The former No. 4 pick rotated with the second unit and had a “just happy to be here” view on being a part of Big Blue. Curry noted that as a blue-chip middle linebacker, who was selected by the Seahawks in the 2009 draft, he took things for granted, but has rededicated himself with a new lease on his football life.
“In Seattle, football wasn't a priority and I just lacked maturity,” Curry said. “[Being labeled a bust] was definitely about the mental aspect. The physical part about football is all NFL guys got [ability], but the guys that separate themselves do it because of the mental, and that all starts on the Monday after the previous Sunday game. I’m looking forward to applying my new way of studying and attention to detail, and challenging myself to emptying the tank every day.”
Curry also credited former Cowboys linebacker and current linebacker coach for the Seahawks, Ken Norton, Jr., for setting him straight.
“Ken Norton challenged me every day. He’s a great coach who said a lot of things that made me change the way I did a lot of stuff about the NFL, about life and about the business,” Curry said. “Every now and then I’ll text him and thank him for all the wisdom and knowledge he passed down to me. ... When I got to Oakland, I wore No. 51 because he once wore No. 51. A lot of days I still think about how he taught me how to handle things on the field or off the field.”
» Don’t count defensive end Justin Tuck as someone who’s particularly concerned about the absence of his starting wideouts.
“No matter how much time they miss, if they come out on Sunday and ball, this will be forgotten,” he said, adding about Cruz, “We’ve got a lot of things to worry about, but I don’t think Victor Cruz is one of them.”
» Guard Chris Snee was not participating, as he’s still recovering from an offseason procedure to his hip. James Brewer filled in for him.
» Mathias Kiwanuka, who was the starting strongside linebacker last season, was seen working with the defensive linemen in drills.
» Mark Herzlich was seen calling the shots at middle linebacker for the first unit, in between outside linebackers Spencer Paysinger and Keith Rivers.
» Cornerback Terrell Thomas said he hopes to start individual drills soon, adding he’s “not scared” of competing despite tearing his ACL for the third time last season.
“If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” Thomas said.
Thomas then quipped he’ll play wherever the coaching staff needs him, as it’s rumored that he may move from cornerback to safety.
"If they tell me I’m going to play kicker, I’ll play kicker,” Thomas said.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.