ALBANY, N.Y. — Coming off a record-setting season for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Victor Cruz isn’t on ‘Cruz’ control.
Far from it.
The only thing that one of New York’s most popular players has tempered is his celebratory salsa-dancing. It’s a bit much for training camp.
What hasn’t changed is Cruz’s approach to football. He’s all in, and that has never been more evident than at the first few days at the University at Albany.
“I feel once you get to a point where you are satisfied you feel like the work is over,” Cruz said Sunday at lunch. “I want to work and continue to get better in areas that I need to get better at. I will be satisfied once my career is over and I am done winning as many games as I possibly can and playing as many games as I can possibly play. I will be satisfied when all is said and done.”
Cruz has let his play on the field in the first couple of days of training camp at the University at Albany speak for itself.
In Thursday’s first practice, Cruz ran a route across the middle and had his feet slip out from under him, sending him sliding to the grass. Still, he managed to raise his chest, reach back and catch Eli Manning’s pass.
The following day, Cruz made a one-handed catch of a pass that Manning threw behind him and then showed his speed, running past a defensive back to catch a long pass.
They were outstanding plays that Cruz made with extra effort, even though no one would have blamed him if he didn’t make the play.
After all, it’s early in camp and Cruz is coming off a phenomenal second season in which he caught 82 passes for a team record 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. He doesn’t need to impress the coaching staff to make the team, unlike two years ago when he came to camp as an undrafted free agent.
“It just goes back to my way of thinking and my way of playing to just catch everything,” Cruz said. “I always wanted to be able to catch the football no matter what happens throughout the route. I want to be able to get my hands on it and make the play. On that play (Thursday), I was able to get my balance back to put my hands on the ball and make the play. That’s what I want to continue to do, just keep playing football and fighting to the very end and keep making plays.”
Cruz did that last season in helping the Giants win their second title in five seasons, and it came as a total surprise.
Cruz made the team in 2010 after an excellent camp and a phenomenal preseason game against the Jets in which the Paterson, N.J., native who grew up 20 minutes from MetLife Stadium caught three touchdowns. A hamstring injury ended his season after three games.
Year 2 was magic with the jump-off point being a road game against Philadelphia in which Cruz caught three passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns after getting playing time because Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon were hurt.
After that, it was one big play after another.
Among his other highlights were a 68-yard TD play after making a one-handed catch against Seattle, a 99-yard catch and run in a pivotal win over the Jets in the next to last week of the season and a 74-yard touchdown catch and run to ignite a Giants win over Dallas on the final weekend that earned New York the NFC East title and a playoff berth.
He would add 21 receptions in the postseason, including New York’s first touchdown in the Super Bowl win over the Patriots.
A hectic offseason followed in which he would co-author a book and make dozens of appearances.
“I made sure that I put in workout times for myself throughout the media run,” Cruz said. “I just made sure I got my workouts in three to four times a week and was able to get it done. It wasn’t hard. I did my football related stuff and then my business stuff afterward.”
Coming to camp, Cruz has to be considered the leader of the receiving corps, especially with Hakeem Nicks sidelined because of a foot injury. There is also no doubt opponents will be game-planning for him this season more than ever.
“I understand that a lot of the focal point has shifted toward me coming off last year and all that kind of stuff, but I don’t feel any pressure,” the 25-year-old said. “I just want to go out there and play my game and the way I know I can play, then everything else will take care of itself.
Cruz is clearly a camp favorite with the fans. Anytime he catches the ball, there is a cheer of “Cruzzzzz!”
“It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s all part of the game, I am just blessed to be in this position in football and playing in front of thousands of people who enjoy what I do. They took a liking to me personally. I am having fun.”
Those fans also seemingly want him to salsa after every catch. He has resisted, knowing his teammates would give him grief in camp.
“I didn’t score a touchdown so I am not going to do a salsa when we are going through a certain part of our practice,” he said.
Manning appreciates Cruz’s no-nonsense approach to practice.
“I think those are the guys that have success,’ Manning said. “They treat practice like a game, so when you get into that game, with game experience, you’re prepared for it.”
Tom Coughlin said Cruz only plays at one speed.
“He has a lot of pride,” Coughlin said. “He is going to practice hard and try to make himself better. He is certainly going build the confidence of his quarterback, for sure.”