NFL

Cruz back at practice, wears protective red jersey

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)

Victor Cruz returned to practice and had New York Giants teammates seeing red.

No, they weren't angry at the star wide receiver for sitting out an extra day with a neck injury. He was hurt against Philadelphia on Oct. 27, the Giants' last game before a bye.

Cruz was getting grief for wearing a red jersey with the No. 8.

The quarterbacks normally wear the red jerseys in practice. It's the universal sign telling teammates not to lay a finger on them.

Cruz got his red jersey because coach Tom Coughlin wanted to make sure his No. 1 receiver didn't get hit in practice Thursday and have a setback for Sunday's game against Oakland.

''Hey, I just work here,'' Cruz said, laughing after practice. ''I just abide by the rules. Coughlin wanted me to put the red jersey on just to make sure everyone understands not to hit me when I am out there running routes and prevent injury from happening again.

Had he been bumped, Cruz said his instincts might have gotten him to do something that he would have regretted.

''I kind of like the red jersey,'' Cruz quipped ''I was fooling around with Eli (Manning) and asked if he needed a break at any time I was available.''

Still, the Giants' defenders had a great time, teasing him, especially defensive end Justin Tuck, who dresses a few lockers away

''As soon as I brought it out here from the training room he was saying: `Say it ain't so!''' Cruz recalled. ''But I had to do it and it was a good talking point for the guys today.''

Tuck didn't want to discuss the jersey, since he had spoken with the media on Wednesday. He then got a sly smile on his face.

''Let's say I planned on going to the point of harassing, and then stopping,'' Tuck said, alluding to a popular NFL topic this week.

Tuck wasn't the only one giving Cruz the business.

''That's just not right,'' cornerback Terrell Thomas said about the red jersey.

Cornerback Prince Amukamara said the defensive backs was considering nudging Cruz on a play or two, but thought better of it.

''I didn't say too much to him, but a couple of guys gave him flak for it,'' defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. ''It didn't look right, but Eli would have him look bad through the week and look good on the weekend and be healthy out there.''

Cruz rated his health at a ''cool 9 1/2'' but he was not sure whether the doctors would let him practice on Friday. He was met with them in the morning.

Having Cruz ready is crucial for the offense. He has 47 catches for 677 yards and four touchdowns with the catches and yardage leading the team. The TD total tied for the top spot with Rueben Randle.

It's a remarkable season considering Cruz missed most of the offseason working out a new $43 million contract. Getting the money didn't even slow him down, like it does other players.

''Some guys become complacent. Some guys get casual about it,'' offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. ''He's been just the exact opposite and now everywhere we go, everybody doubles him, everybody is aware of what he means to us. I think unfortunately that first game against Dallas showed everybody you can't play him one on one with some of the stuff we let him do inside and so he's had to contend with double teams. It reminds me of the old Plaxico Burress, the old Steve Smith at the height of their careers with us and that's what he's getting.''

What's even more impressive for Gilbride is watching Cruz without the ball. His blocking has improved and helped the offense.

Cruz insists he has taken this season one day at a time and not put goals in place.

''I want to make sure I am doing all the little things,'' Cruz said. ''That's the part I wanted to address this year - doing all the little things to get myself better as a full well-rounded wide receiver, blocking routes on the outside, routes in the inside. I wanted to do everything it takes to be a well-rounded receiver and not to be just categorized as a slot or an occasional outside receiver. I feel like I am doing a good job of that so far.''

The teasing comments came mostly from the defense.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Tagged: Justin Tuck, Giants, Victor Cruz

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