The fact is, the team is still trying to replace departed receiver Mario Manningham (39 catches, 523 yards, four TDs in 2011) and the presence of Nicks and slot receiver Victor Cruz doesn’t change that.
Cruz will still start opposite Nicks and the pair will see more playing time than anyone. The question is who will come onto the field when the team goes to three-receiver sets -- something offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride calls for frequently.
Here are some names to remember before the Giants’ season gets underway against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 5:
Domenik Hixon: Hixon’s touchdown catch against the St. Louis Rams in Week 2 was his last play of the 2011 season. He tore his ACL for the second time while making the remarkable reception at the end of the half, but he doesn’t appear to be limited so far this season.
Hixon missed the first preseason game with a hamstring issue. Coach Tom Coughlin said it was precautionary and Hixon was back at practice on Sunday and Monday.
Hixon’s strength is his knowledge of the offense and his versatility. He can play on either side of the field or in the slot, so he’s incredibly valuable as a backup. The challenge for him is finding his top gear again, and at 27, that’s going to be hard to do.
Hixon is physical, smart and has great hands. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a favorite of Gilbride, Coughlin and QB Eli Manning.
Rueben Randle: The second-round pick out of LSU is big (6-2) and has decent athleticism, but it’s the way he uses his body that makes Randle impressive.
Randle shielded Jaguars CB Mike Harris to haul in a six-yard TD reception from Ryan Perrilloux on Friday, which was a play that would have been difficult for a smaller receiver.
Gilbride’s offense is extremely complicated (there are a lot of reads to make, even for first-year receivers), so it’s a lot to ask Randle to be ready in Week 1. That, however, doesn’t mean he won’t be worked in more as the season unfolds.
Maybe Randle isn’t the third receiver in the game in September or October, but his physical gifts are so obvious that you expect him to see significant playing time at some point.
And, given the fact that Rueben is built for the sideline, he’d allow Cruz to slide into the slot in three-receiver sets.
Ramses Barden: Barden has looked sensational in Albany, but this is the third season we’ve been able to say that (last year the Giants’ camp was in East Rutherford) without really seeing him shine in the fall and winter.
The question is, can he stay healthy and bring this production into the regular season.
When he has played, Barden has been targeted. Unfortunately, an ankle injury got his 2011 season off to a late start and a six-week stretch of being listed as “inactive” effectively ended the year prematurely.
At 6-6, Barden promises to be on the field in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He has great hands and while he doesn’t have top-flight speed, he can cover a lot of ground with his long stride.
Coughlin’s challenge for Barden is to improve as a run blocker.
The rest of the pack: Jerrel Jernigan, Isaiah Stanback, Dan DePalma and David Douglas are the rest of the receivers who are competing for roster slots. Jernigan obviously will be back on the team as the Giants see him as a threat in the slot and in the return game.
Stanback is the only member of this group with much size (6-2). He played well against Jacksonville, making a one-handed touchdown catch while holding off a defensive back with his other limb.
Douglas had looked very good until a recent quad injury sidelined him against the Jaguars and for Sunday and Monday’s practices.
DePalma has been sharp as well, and he’s given himself a good chance of making the roster by volunteering for a lot of special teams duties and even offering to play defensive back. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell did not take him up on that offer.