EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Quite frankly it would take a huge upset -- perhaps not the caliber of USA hockey over Russia in 1980 Olympic hockey, but close to it -- for Victor Cruz not to be included on the Giants' final 53-man roster.
The free agent rookie wideout leads all NFL receivers with 241 yards and four touchdown catches after three exhibition games. Cruz is second in receptions with 12, one behind Cincinnati rookie Jordan Shipley.
There is one less contender for the six roster spots the Giants probably will delegate to wide receivers, because veteran Sinorice Moss was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after undergoing sports hernia surgery. But Cruz already had whizzed past Moss in the pecking order with his three-touchdown debut against the Jets.
That six-catch, 145-yard effort made the rookie an instant favorite among Giants fans. They greeted him with a "Cruuuz!" chant when he entered the game against Pittsburgh the next week. He built on the great beginning in the last two games and also has shown the consistency coaches like to see daily in practice.
Yet leave it to coach Tom Coughlin to leave some doubt, at least in the rookie's mind. Coughlin has been Cruz's biggest cheerleader throughout training camp, and has little doubt about his ability to play wide receiver on this level.
"He's done well," Coughlin said again Tuesday. "He's proven he can catch it."
But then there was the caveat.
"The thing that all those young guys -- you preach, but sometimes they don't listen -- that it's going to be special teams," Coughlin said of what often is the deciding factor in whether a player makes the roster. "If he can help us on special teams, it's going to be a tremendous asset for him and much more for us to evaluate."
The Giants will conclude their preseason Thursday night against the Patriots at New Meadowlands Stadium. Since Coughlin won't play his regulars more than a quarter, the game will focus on players trying to solidify a spot on the roster, carve out one on the practice squad or show they are worthy of being among the 45 to dress for the regular-season opener against Carolina.
With Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Derek Hagan assured of dressing Sept. 12, there would be a spot for one more wideout. That probably will come down to Cruz and Ramses Barden, and the one who contributes the most on special teams probably will get to wear that game jersey.
"I'm definitely trying to get in on every special team I can," Cruz said. "I talked to the coaches so I can make my mark on special teams and go out there Thursday and show them I can do that. They have put me on the punt team, so I will be going down there as a gunner. I'm also on kickoff return and a little bit of punt return as well. That's about it so far."
Coughlin was upset by the play of his coverage teams in Saturday night's loss to Baltimore. "No tackling, no tackling, no tackling at all, not tackling well enough. They need to tackle better," he said.
Cruz got a taste of being the gunner on punt coverage against the Ravens, but is looking for a better opportunity Thursday night.
"I've never done it before," he said, "but it's just like being a receiver; you have to get off the line and everything like that. Then it just comes down to tackling. So I think I can tackle pretty well."
While he played receiver and returned kicks at UMass, Cruz has tackling experience. He played in the secondary at Paterson (N.J.) Catholic.
"I played DB and definitely did at lot of hitting in high school," he said. "So I'm definitely ready for it. I'm ready; I'm excited."