BOURBONNAIS – Entering his eighth season in the NFL, former New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz may just be the most interesting Bear in Bourbonnais.
Cruz made the Giants roster in 2010 as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Massachusetts but suffered a Week 3 hamstring injury and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve.
He began the 2011 season as the Giants’ fourth wideout and exploded with 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns, earning The Associated Press second team All-Pro honors.
For an encore, Cruz had 86 catches for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns, made his first Pro Bowl trip in 2012, and he followed that with 73-998-4 receiving in 2013, missing two games with a heel bruise.
Then everything went wrong.
Cruz tore his right patellar tendon in Week 6 of 2014, ending his season.
In training camp in 2015, he tore fascia in his left calf, he believes, overcompensating for his right knee and eventually requiring surgery when it refused to heal, causing him to miss the entire season.
Cruz finally made it back on the field last season, but as Eli Manning’s third option. Behind Odell Beckham and rookie Sterling Shepard, Cruz managed only 39 catches for 586 yards and one touchdown.
When the Giants chose to sign of all people, former Bear Brandon Marshall, late last winter it was time for Cruz to move on.
So do the Bears have a potential Pro Bowl slot receiver to pair with youngsters Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a cagey veteran to mentor the youngsters and make some plays on third down or an aging, injury-prone vet who isn’t even a lock to make the team?
The Bears will carry at least five and possibly six receivers, including White, Meredith, Markus Wheaton – who was guaranteed $6 million as a free agent – and possibly Josh Bellamy because of the value he brings on special teams.
That leaves Cruz and fellow vets Kendall Wright, Rueben Randle, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman and a group of undrafted rookie free agents – as Cruz once was – fighting for two or maybe three roster spots.
Cruz is a heavy favorite in that group because of his ability, history and the $1.5 million he was guaranteed on his one-year, $2 million deal that makes him the most expensive to cut.
Also, because of what he brings to the kids.
Asked whether he’s noticed his younger players looking to Cruz for advice, coach John Fox said, “The type of pro Victor is, he kind of exudes that.
“Obviously he has been there before, so the guys do look to him. Most of it’s a lot of visual – how they work, what they do, how they take notes, how they conduct themselves in meetings, off the field, how they take care of their bodies, all those are lessons that are good for all young players to see.”
Fox also gushed about Cruz’s leadership.
“It’s huge,” he said. “I think a lot is made of really everything, whether it’s coaching, but good teams that I’ve been part of is more within.
“Those guys are out there between the lines on game days and how they conduct themselves. That’s where leadership is really important.”
For his part, Cruz said he gets a real kick out of being around the younger receivers.
“I do, I do, and it’s weird because when I start talking or whenever I give a coaching point or say something, it’s like (wide-eyed facial expression), ‘He’s talking to us.’
“So it’s a good feeling. I’ve seen both sides to it. It’s funny when I speak and they listen.”
At the end of the day it appears the real question isn’t whether Cruz will be a Bear, but just how valuable a Bear he’s going to be, on and off the field.