EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Rueben Randle has become a popular name around Giants training camp lately. And now that Hakeem Nicks’ groin strain is expected to keep him sideline-bound until at least Tuesday, if not beyond, he is getting even more of Eli Manning’s attention.
Randle, whose practice last Monday was highlighted by an over-the-shoulder catch of a deep throw and a pretty deep-out grab, has manned Nicks’ split end spot opposite Victor Cruz, and is quickly gaining his quarterback’s confidence.
He’s more than the mere third option flanker, or “W’’ of last season, his rookie year after the Giants drafted him out of LSU in the second round. With limited bodies in the receiving corps, he could be called on to start if Nicks’ health falters again, as it did in 2012.
“I just want to show them they can depend on me,” Randle said before Saturday’s rains forced the Giants indoors at their Quest Diagnostics Training Center. “I played some of the ‘X’ last year, so now I’m comfortable with both positions. Whatever position, it’s time to just step in and play, whether it’s getting a first down or whatever.”
He gave evidence of that growth again Saturday, when Manning directed his first two passes to the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Randle. He caught them both in stride, the first one in traffic over the middle, and the second in front of nickel back Aaron Ross.
Nicks was limited in the two practices before the groin sidelined completely for the last three. Considering his free agency at season’s end, he and the Giants are being cautious about any injuries in light of the knee and foot problems that cut into his speed and effectiveness last season.
So it is no wonder that Randle is getting plenty of work.
Nicks will undoubtedly seek much bigger dollars than the $8.5 million Cruz averaged with his restricted free agent contract, probably in the $11 million range. But he knows he must stay healthy to accomplish that. His current injury will not help matters.
“It will be a matter of making sure that I’m in shape, of which I have no doubt, and getting back into the flow of things,” Nicks said. “Me and Eli are always on the same page. We talk all the time. Just watching the practice as well, I see what he’s looking at in his progressions and stuff like that. So that helps me when I do get back out there on the field.”
In the meantime, Randle will take all his reps. And Nicks is wary about taking any further chances with his legs.
“I think last year, I just kept pushing my body through,” Nicks said. “I’m trying to be a little more wiser, knowing the game right now, knowing the business side of things. You kind of want to be smart. At the same time, you don’t want to take advantage of not being able to practice and turn it into a laziness thing. That’s definitely not the case.
“You want to be smart and take care of your body because if you can’t be out there on the field producing, then it’s not good for the team.”
Randle has his mind on production, too. He caught 19 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns in a learning year. The four catches in his first career start on Dec. 30 against the Eagles, in place of Nicks, were highlighted by touchdowns of three and 38 yards.
“I knew I was capable of doing that,” Randle said. “It was just the timing and the situation. That week the game plan was to go out there and make the best of my opportunities.”
He expects to contribute far more than that this year.
“We can be dominant,” Randle said. “I don’t think a defense can put up with all three of us at one time. We should be a pretty good unit.”