Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 5/30/12

If another Victor Cruz wants to raise his hand, coach Tom Coughlin is taking applications to be the next out-of-nowhere star receiver to emerge for the Giants.

The team hasn't hit the panic button with Hakeem Nicks undergoing surgery last week to repair a broken right foot. Coughlin is holding out hope the veteran can return by training camp. In the meantime, he's using the offseason program to give a group of receivers an opportunity to step up.

Among them is unproven fourth-year player Ramses Barden, veteran Domenik Hixon returning from a major injury, promising second-year player Jerrel Jernigan and rookie second-round pick Reuben Randle.

Barden would appear a prime candidate for a breakout. He has just 17 receptions through three seasons, but flashed at times after being activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list last season.

"It would be great if he did," Coughlin said of Barden potentially filling Nicks' spot. "It has been a little bit of inconsistency. Some days are very, very good and others are not as good. He knows that and he is working hard on that. Hopefully it is going to all catch up with Ramses this spring and this fall."

No one is impacted by Nicks' injury more than quarterback Eli Manning. Cruz set the single-season franchise reception record last season, but Nicks is the trusted target Manning routinely turns to to move the chains and in the red zone - to the tune of 183 receptions over the past two years.

Barden knows the offense, but bringing that consistency to the field is the missing link.

"Last year I think he was coming off the (ankle) injury. He never really got exactly where he wanted to be," Manning said. "He looks like he is running well; coming out of his breaks well. So hopefully he can step up and play a role for us this year."

Coughlin said Hixon is progressing well and lauded his ability to make plays on a steady basis. But while he's routinely in the right place, he lacks a dynamic factor as a wide receiver. And there are plenty of questions about his durability, having played in two just two games over the past two seasons due to knee injuries.

If he can recover fully and regain his top-end speed, Hixon will certainly figure into the mix.

Coughlin said Randle is working his way through the typical bumps of a rookie receiver, learning a new playbook, how to maintain his intensity day in and day out and not making mistakes repetition after repetition.

"(The NFL) is a little bit different in terms of the peer pressure," Coughlin said. "He is feeling it and sensing it. He has only had a few days out here on the field. But you can see - all you have to do, really, is watch him catch punts. So you know he is talented."

For now, the Giants are evaluating what they have on the roster. They'll monitor Nicks' progress and movement around the league before considering bringing in another veteran.

"We will have time," Manning said. "Hakeem has always been a fast healer. So hopefully he gets healed up quickly and can get back for training camp - for a good bit of that where we can get our timing down. He is a guy who knows the offense. He knows what he is doing. It won't take long for us to get back on the same page."

Nicks' injury is a bit more magnified due to the defection of Mario Manningham to San Francisco in free agency. But Manning has faced questions about the depth of his receiving corps on an annual basis.

"It is just part of the NFL. You are going to have different guys in and out," Manning said. "And it is hard to continue to keep guys.

"We have had success. The receivers have done well. They work hard. Coaches do a good job of coaching them up and getting them doing the right things. So I think it keeps guys competing and working hard. And we do have a number of guys who have been in this offense for multiple years who do have a good feel.

"You are always going to have some new guys in that you are trying to train and try to get them caught up to speed. And hopefully they can continue to learn and get better and help out in some way."


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