By Ernie Palladino
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Knowing full well Victor Cruz's competitive zeal that took him from undrafted talent to Giants Playmaker-in-Chief, he probably wasn't kidding when he told the Daily News of his hopes to "sneak in that backfield" for a few plays next year.
And so we have a potentially new incarnation of the Paterson, N.J. native -- Cruz as running back. In a collegiate and pro career with as many turns and detours as a Wild Mouse roller coaster, this is a new twist. And you have to admire the kid for his willingness to subject himself to the rigors of backfield work, even if it's just for the sake of gimmickry.
It all sounds nice, Cruz wanting to help out new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo run what could be a tricked-out version of a West Coast offense. But the fact of the matter is that if Cruz actually appears in that backfield outside of circumnavigating it on an end-around, it will mean the Giants are either winning gloriously or are mired in deep, deep trouble.
The last thing McAdoo should ever consider is putting such a valuable commodity as Cruz back there. As Hakeem Nicks readies his search for greener financial pastures, Cruz stands as the Giants' only consistent receiving threat right now. Rueben Randle hasn't quite achieved Cruz's level yet, though he has shown signs of explosiveness. Still, there's a big difference between the occasional big play and "go-to" status. That belongs to Cruz alone.
Cruz half-jokingly told the Daily News that he could see himself in a Randall Cobb role -- part receiver, part running back, on top of return man. While few would argue with Cruz's speed and ability to make people miss, just like Cobb, what McAdoo would have to worry about is Cruz's already extensive role.
His dinner plate is full enough, so to speak. As Eli Manning's only reliable target out there at this point, McAdoo could ill-afford to take Cruz out of his pass-oriented offense, even for one play. Cruz's specific work as a slot receiver, in a West Coast style that favors intermediate throws to all parts of the field, would probably preclude McAdoo from tossing him into the backfield.
Then again, who knows what the 36-year-old former Green Bay quarterbacks coach has in mind. He held his cards as closely as a Vegas Poker Challenge winner during his press conference with the media last week. All anyone outside the Quest Diagnostic Center's meeting rooms knows right now is that the offense is going to be "high-powered" and "exciting." Those adjectives just happen to be meaningless in today's pass-happy NFL, where the jimmying of defensive rules have created even more "high-powered" and "exciting" offenses.
As the roster stands now, McAdoo can ill afford to knock Cruz off the primary limb of the passing tree. He need only look at Manning's issues from last year, make the likely subtraction of Nicks, and think about what life might be like even briefly with Cruz wasted in the backfield.
It's not a deep concept. He won't do it.
A lot can change between now and the offseason workout program, however. Free agency starts next Tuesday, so don't be surprised if the Giants go after a receiver along with a veteran replacement for retired offensive lineman David Diehl. They could also take a shot on the Bears' legendary return man Devin Hester, a fellow who also plays wide receiver.
A number of the Giants' 27 free agents won't be back, so they will have money to play with as they re-cast their team. They could add talent everywhere, including the receiver spot.
One thing they should never do, however, is grant Cruz his wish. It's nice of him to want to help out. But he's far too valuable a receiver to waste even a down at running back.
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