EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Of all the players on the New York Giants' practice field Tuesday, one stood out. And not just because of the bright orange cleats Victor Cruz wore that could double as reflectors.
Cruz returned after two-plus weeks dealing of with a groin injury. The results were encouraging as all eyes were on the busy former Pro Bowl receiver.
These eyes included. Here’s what they saw:
11:45 a.m. – Cruz is, as always, in the front row as the team stretches. He’s next to mostly running backs and cornerbacks. He’s not hard to notice with those cleats.
11:55 a.m. – The Giants' receivers are running patterns in individual drills. On his final of about a handful, Cruz catches an out route from quarterback Eli Manning. He looked pretty good running the route.
12:02 p.m. – When the Giants do special-teams drills, Cruz stands with the punt returners. He does this at two separate times during practice. He doesn’t actually catch punts, though. He just chats with some of the guys (Dwayne Harris, Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard) and wide receivers coach Adam Henry. You can often find Cruz close to Henry when he's not involved in drills.
12:15 p.m. – Cruz steps on to the field on the second snap of team drills. He’s working alongside Beckham and Roger Lewis. Manning is the quarterback. Cruz runs an uncontested drag route across the field and makes his first of seven receptions.
12:16 p.m. – Two plays later, Cruz is in the slot matched against rookie cornerback Donte Deayon. He does an out and up. It doesn’t appear to be at full speed.
12:20 p.m. – Again Cruz is in the slot. This time he’s against Bennett Jackson. Cruz runs a quick out, creates separation, but doesn’t get the ball. It goes to the other side. He was open, though.
12:21 p.m. – Snap 4 is again in the slot against Jackson. Cruz makes a nice, quick move near the line of scrimmage and runs up the seam. The ball hits him in the stomach in stride after 7 yards and he makes the catch. It would’ve been a nice gain.
12:23 p.m. – They’re now in the no-huddle portion of practice. Cruz’s fifth snap is a running play. There isn’t much blocking going on against cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
12:24 p.m. – Cruz runs a quick out against Rodgers-Cromartie and makes a nice fingertip catch. He doesn’t look especially fast or explosive on this play, though.
12:25 p.m. – Another running play and very little blocking. Cruz is more half-speed faking to run a route than anything.
12:30 p.m. – After getting a drink, joking with Beckham (with a huge smile on his face) and watching some second- and third-team action, Cruz comes out alongside wide receiver Geremy Davis and does little on a running play.
12:32 p.m. – Another running play, but this time he blocks and locks up cornerback Joe Powell. Finally some real contact for maybe the first time in weeks.
12:38 p.m. – Cruz runs an out pattern from the slot and looks good out of his break. His straight speed appears average, but his cutting ability is solid.
12:55 p.m. – This is seven-on-seven now. It’s snap 11 and he gets little separation on an inside move against Deayon. There is a little hop/limp as he goes back to the sideline.
12:56 p.m. – It’s obviously nothing serious. Cruz has perhaps his best snap several plays later when he makes a quick, sharp move at the line of scrimmage to beat Deayon. He makes his fourth catch, this time going across the middle of the field.
"He's quick. I didn't think he was going to be that quick off the line right now," Deayon said. "He got me on this one. He kind of shook me. I was like, 'Ohhhh.' He shook and shot across the field. He's got his step back. He's quick and he's a veteran. He knows his game."
1:01 p.m. – Another catch for Cruz against Jackson across the middle of the field as "Born in the USA" blares out of the speakers. It just so happens that Bruce Springstein played MetLife Stadium later Tuesday. Hmmmm.
As for the actual play, Cruz seemed to get lost as he dragged across the formation. He doesn’t look especially explosive on this play even though he gets open and makes the catch.
1:02 p.m. – Snap 14 appears to be another out and up, but the ball is out of Manning’s hand to the other side before Cruz gets very far.
1:07 p.m. – The Giants are again in no-huddle. First play Cruz is on the field is a draw. He serves as a pass-catching decoy.
1:08 p.m. – Next play is a go route against Powell. There is no separation. The straight-line speed just doesn’t look like it’s there yet.
1:09 p.m. – Another good, quick move at the line of scrimmage by Cruz to create separation against Jackson. He’s open (but doesn’t look to be running great) and makes the catch. It’s Cruz’s sixth of the afternoon.
1:16 p.m. – One more play and one more catch. It’s much of the same. Cruz gets lost on a drag route across the field -- this time against a zone -- for what would’ve been a 10-yard gain or so before linebacker Jasper Brinkley made contact.
But this is practice without full pads. There is no tackling. Players are in shorts, shoulder pads, and helmets.
It may not have been a game and Cruz's speed and explosion don’t appear there quite yet, but it was a significant step in his comeback. He had a solid day.
"It’s been a little minute since he’s played, but in my opinion he looked great," Beckham said.
The Giants gave him his largest workload of the summer, in his first day back. They threw more balls in his direction than any other day.
Cruz looked good making cuts (especially on the play at 12:56), but didn’t appear to be overly explosive. There’s still work to be done.
It was still a massive step in the right direction. Now everybody needs to see how his legs bounce back Wednesday and hold up throughout the week. Saturday’s preseason game against the Jets is the target.