EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It’s not surprising Victor Cruz has been experiencing a wide range of emotions heading into the New York Giants’ season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
The start of every NFL season gets the juices flowing. Players wonder how they are going to do, whether the team is going to be any good, and how far they can get in a run to the Super Bowl.
This isn’t just any season for the 29-year-old Cruz. It’s somewhat a professional rebirth for the wide receiver who was once one of the league’s most productive players.
When Cruz plays against the Cowboys on Sunday, it will be his first regular-season game since injuring a knee on Oct. 12, 2014 against Philadelphia. He missed the rest of that season and sat out last year with a calf injury.
Many wondered whether he would ever get back after missing the first two preseason games this year with a groin injury. Cruz never lost faith. He played in the final two preseason games and had one catch for 4 yards.
It convinced the coaching staff and management that there is something left in the tank for the former free agent who had 241 catches for 3,626 yards and 23 touchdowns combined in 2011, ’12 and ’13.
“There are definitely some jitters,” Cruz said. “I get butterflies before every game until that ball is kicked off, but this one might have some extra butterflies. Just being able to run out there with my team again, being able to line up across from an opposing team in a Week 1 scenario playing football again. I think I am excited, I am anxious, emotions will be everywhere, so I am just excited for the opportunity to run out there and see what happens.”
Cruz is listed in the starting lineup and believes he can play the whole game.
“We will see how it goes, we will see how my body feels going into that third and fourth quarter, and we will take it from there,” said Cruz, who will be accompanying the team on a road trip for the first time since his injury.
Coach Ben McAdoo said Cruz would not be on a play count.
“There’s no dipping your toe in the water now,” McAdoo said Friday. “We’re going down there to win a ballgame.”
Even if Cruz can’t play the whole game, having him out there is going to be a lift for the Giants.
Fellow receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is excited get a chance to play with Cruz for the first time, noting that the Paterson, New Jersey resident was one of the receivers he watched while at LSU.
Beckham thinks Cruz has the potential to make some big plays again.
“I guess we’ll see Sunday,” said Beckham, who has become the Giants’ top receiver in Cruz’s absence. “(He) knocked the rust off, got some preseason games. He’s feeling good. Mentally, when you’re in a good state, the rest will control itself. Just staying as positive as possible. I know he’s more than excited. Anxious, nervous, all of those feelings. I’m sure after the first tackle, you’ll see 80 again.”
Quarterback Eli Manning is just happy to have Cruz back after all he has gone through.
“Just as a friend, as a teammate, excited to have him back in the lineup, and I know he’ll be able to make some plays for us,” Manning said.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said Cruz has flashed his talent in practice, working at both the slot and outside receiver positions.
While he did little in the preseason, Cruz can’t hide his anticipation about playing this weekend.
“I think that being gone for roughly two years is just an emotional time for me when I go out there, an exhilarating time, an exciting time, but a time where I just have to look back and put this all into perspective from where I came from. And to be here again is just a blessing,” he said.
NOTES: Giants players elected Manning, LS Zak DeOssie and LB Jonathan Casillas as their captains for the season. The team also has game captains, and RB Rashad Jennings, DE Jason Pierre-Paul and LB Mark Herzlich will serve as those in Week 1. … DT Robert Thomas has been ruled out Sunday with an illness. … McAdoo again refused to say who would call the offensive plays Sunday.