NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, November 19, 2015, 12:07 PM
Dwayne Harris has stepped up in absence of Victor Cruz.
An icon of the Giants is gone for the year. And for Dwayne Harris, that doesn’t change a single thing.
Meet the Giants’ newest receiving weapon — and the reason that Victor Cruz’s aborted comeback hasn’t left a void in the offense. Even before Cruz went down, Harris had blossomed into a solid third receiver for the Giants, a fact he isn’t shy about mentioning now that the job is his for the rest of 2015. He was working behind Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. all season, he says.
“I’ve been playing the role since the beginning of the season,” Harris says of the Giants’ slot job. “So there’s nothing really different about it . . . I’ve been doing it the whole season.”
And, gradually, the ex-Cowboy has become a critical piece of the Giants offense, assuming a greater role than he ever expected. When he signed a four-year, $ 17 million deal with the Giants in the spring, the move seemed designed to shore up a special teams unit that had struggled in recent years. Even Harris believed he’d only be a bit player in the offense.
“Especially with Vic, thought he was coming back, (I) thought I was going to play a minimal role,” Harris says. “I thought I’d play maybe 20 snaps (a game).”
But then Cruz’s recovery from last year’s torn patellar knee tendon was short-circuited by a mid-August calf injury. And Preston Parker, expected to fill in as slot receiver, was cut after dropping pass after pass in the season’s first two games.
By October, the Giants had little choice but to insert Harris, who heads into the bye week having already established career-highs with 25 receptions, 304 receiving yards and four receiving TDs, not to mention a 101-yard kickoff return for a game-winning score against Dallas last month. He has three TD catches in his last three games, and he’s proving to be a versatile piece for Big Blue.
“He’s played pretty well,” says Giants coach Tom Coughlin. “We move people around in and out of that (slot receiver) spot and we will continue to do that, but Dwayne has done a nice job.”
It’s a role Harris always wanted to play in Dallas, he said. But the Cowboys viewed him largely as a return man, and he never could quite crack a deep receiving corps that included Dez Bryant, Miles Austin in his prime, and the hot-and-cold Terrance Williams.
“I’m a good receiver,” says Harris. “I just didn’t get the opportunity in Dallas. When I got the opportunity (with the Giants), I just made the best of it.”
He’ll only improve with experience, as he develops greater chemistry with quarterback Eli Manning, says receivers coach Sean Ryan.
“Especially inside in the slot, it takes a little bit just kind of seeing things, because they happen a little bit quicker for you inside there,” says Ryan. “The more you play, the more comfortable you get. I think that is very evident with him.”
And now the Giants need to keep Harris comfortable and fresh. He’s proven to be a solid slot receiver, but the team values his abilities as a return man and as a gunner on special teams coverage units.
And GM Jerry Reese, who made the gutsy — and widely criticized — move to sign Harris, does worry that the receiver is now shouldering too great a load on offense. The Giants have already started using Shane Vereen to occasionally spell Harris on kick returns.
“I think it hurts him a little bit on special teams, because he’s playing full-time receiver,” Reese says. “And he still has special teams duties we wanted him to initially have.”
But Harris isn’t worried. After all, he says again, he’s handled this balancing act all season.
“I’ve been doing it the whole season,” he says again. “I’m embracing the role.”
He wouldn’t have it any other way.