Eli Manning, depth at receiver instill confidence for Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When Hakeem Nicks was diagnosed a week ago with a broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot, the New York Giants wide receiver didn't have to look far for an expert opinion.

His teammate, running back Ahmad Bradshaw, has a doctorate, or something darn close to it, in foot and ankle issues. Among Bradshaw's myriad of injuries, three were identical to the one Hicks sustained. And he has the screws in his feet to prove it.

"Two times on the right foot," Bradshaw said. "Once on the left."

No wonder after Nicks' break was revealed, he sought out Bradshaw for guidance.

"I told him it heals quick," Bradshaw said. "I told him it was not that bad."

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Nicks' response?

"It looked like it took a lot (of weight) off his shoulders," Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw's confidence in Nicks' recovery is resolute. He believes there is "no doubt" Nicks is back on the field during training camp. For now, the Giants continue organized team activities and get ready for mandatory minicamp in two weeks without half of their dynamic receiving tandem.

On a practice field Thursday, Eli Manning threw passes to starting receiver Victor Cruz and several candidates who are looking to prove themselves. "Maybe," coach Tom Coughlin said, "we have another Victor Cruz here."

The coach likely would settle for Domenik Hixon staying healthy. He's torn his right ACL the past two years, but remains a Coughlin favorite.

"Same ol' Domenik," Coughlin said. "Makes plays, makes plays, makes plays. Very, very steady; very consistent. He never makes a mistake."

Because of those knee injuries, Hixon has caught four passes over the past two years.

"It makes me very anxious to make sure that he gets through the spring and feels real good about himself," Coughlin said.

Among the other candidates to replace Nicks for the time being are Ramses Barden, whose most consistent trait in three previous seasons has been his penchant for inconsistency, Jerrel Jernigan and rookie Rueben Randle.

Randle's best work so far, according to Coughlin, has come on the punt team, where his natural talent and instincts shine. Cruz said he is encouraged that Randle will pick up the offense quickly, partly because "he asks the right questions."

The Giants' receiving corps has been further compromised in recent months by the departure in free agency of Mario Manningham to the San Francisco 49ers. Randle was told after the draft that he would compete for the No. 3 receiver job. At the moment, the opportunity is much grander than even that.

The regular season remains more than three months away, so the lack of proven starters at receiver is hardly alarming for two reasons:

  1. No one's keeping score yet. And, frankly, you could argue some of the other guys need the work. Hixon said the biggest difference without Nicks is the number of practice reps for the rest of the group: "They went up for everyone."
  1. Eli Manning inspires confidence that he will be able to help young receivers develop, and quickly. Reference Cruz's franchise record-setting season in 2012.

"He is responsive to the circumstance," is how Coughlin describes Manning. "Whatever our team's needs are, he is going to do the best that he can to help regardless. So he has bought complete ownership of his team. He continues to get better himself and to help everybody around him get better."

There is no doubt, however, that the Giants are better with Nicks than without him. Manning will predict that Nicks' conditioning and commitment to the playbook will make his return seamless, whenever it happens. Bradshaw will tell you that Nicks' presence prevents opponents from putting a safety in the box, thus -- in theory -- opening up the running game. Cruz will say that it's "weird" without Nicks on the field, not because of what he says -- which isn't much -- but because of what he does.

And Coughlin will rave about the leadership Nicks was showing this spring, not only with young receivers but in the considerable pride he took in his own preparation.

"There isn't any question about what he wants. He wants to be a premier player in this league," Coughlin said. "(And) this guy really, really wants to be on the field and out here. We certainly hope that the idea of him returning by camp can happen."

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.

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