Giants hoping rookie Nicks can fill playmaker void at wide receiver

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rookies have a way of letting you know they are rookies, especially when they sprint onto the field for their first pro practice. Their eyes are wide and their steps are initially ginger. This Giants crop on Friday at Giants Stadium was no different.

Once this bunch had finished its first session, some described the experience. Linebacker Clint Sintim said it was "surreal." He said the whole idea of being a Giant had not yet hit him.

2008 stats (at UNC)
Catches: 68

Yards: 1,222

Touchdowns: 12

Quarterback Rhett Bomar said he was so excited and was throwing the ball so high and so hard that Giants quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer told him to, simply, "breathe." Bomar said that becoming a Giant was sort of a bolt "out of the blue."

Credit the guy -- he got the color right.

Cornerback DeAndre Wright said the thing he quickly learned from Giants coach Tom Coughlin was how much Coughlin wanted him to play at a faster tempo. And then there was running back Allen Patrick.

Last Friday, he was a free agent in Jets camp. This Friday, he had switched from Jets green to Giants blue.

"The Jets told me on Sunday that all of their running back spots were full," Patrick said. "The Giants told my agent they were aware of me, and on Thursday I was here. I'm not sure that has happened too much, from Jets to Giants in such a short time. Hey, you get in where you fit it."

That brings us flawlessly to Giants rookie wide receiver Hakeem Nicks.

Here is a player, as much as any drafted, that needs to get in and fit in.

When you have been where the Giants have been with wide receiver Plaxico Burress -- up and down and sideways before a permanent split last month -- there is a relief that comes with his departure and, yet, anxiety over filling his void. With Nicks, the Giants have the rugged, physical part, and with rookie wide receiver Ramses Barden (6-foot-6), they have the distinguishable height and rare end-zone leaping ability. Burress was so good when he was at his best that it could take two or three or four receivers to account for his gifts.

But it starts with Nicks. He was the first-round pick. He was the guy that photographers asked for solo shots here on Friday. He was the first rookie the Giants escorted to their interview room.

And he was the rookie who seemed most comfortable in his debut.

He wore a new, shiny, white pair of Jordan "Air Force Ones." Old-school style for a new-school player.

"I guess I've worn this brand of sneaker since I was in middle school," said Nicks, now 21. "I watched Plaxico play. I admired him. I've never met him. Haven't heard from him. I'm not looking to get into everybody's Plaxico thing. I'm Hakeem Nicks. I want to do what I've been doing that got me to this point."

What he did in his North Carolina high school was, for four years, be a wheel in a team that never lost a game. What he did at North Carolina, for coach Butch Davis, was fight through double teams and often come up with the ball and break tackles and remind Davis of Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin.

And what he will do for the Giants, well, no one knows. But Nicks has some ideas.

There he was, in his first practice, showing sure hands and often being the last one with his paws on the ball when it was tipped by the defense or equally up for possession.

The Giants say Nicks arrived as smooth off the field -- listening, cooperative, coachable, positive and eager.

"I think people might think I'm not that fast as a receiver," Nicks said. "I think I play fast. If you have me run a 40, I might run a 4.49 or 4.5. But if you put a ball in my hands in a game, I think I run faster than that. I think I have game speed."

Bill Walsh used to call this "functional football speed."

Walsh saw it in Jerry Rice when many said that Rice, when exiting college, was not a "fast" receiver.

Nicks is easy to like. He says nothing is guaranteed. That he must earn his keep, his spot on the Giants' roster and in the offense. He said he did not drop a ball in his first practice. He said he wants to perfect the offense.

You hear the players around Nicks talk glowingly about his "tools."

The Giants, when around Plaxico Burress, used to talk about him in exactly the same way.

The Giants want Nicks to get in and fit in. These are the infant steps.

"I understand," Nicks said.

In a way and a manner that the Giants already appreciate.

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Earl "Curly" Lambeau, 37, coach of Green Bay Packers of National Football League, poses in 1931, location unknown. (AP Photo)

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