EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — There was a time last year when the New York Giants didn’t have a clue who would emerge as their No. 1 receiver in the post-Plaxico Burress era.
Steve Smith ended the speculation in a major way, setting a franchise record with 107 catches last season.
Opponents though are finding out there’s more to the receiving corps than Smith. The Giants now have a three-headed weapon at the wide-out spot with third-year pro Mario Manningham and second-year pro Hakeem Nicks giving them plenty to worry about.
Just this past weekend, Nicks scored on three of his four receptions, while Manningham had four catches for 85 yards, including three for at least 21 yards.
“We know what we got,” Manningham said Thursday. “We know what we can do. If one person has a bad day, the other will help him by picking it up. All for one, one for all. That’s how we are as a receiving corps.”
Smith is the glue to the operation. The 25-year-old who is in his fourth season is the guy who Eli Manning counts on in the clutch situations. He is also the receiver who more often than not will get the double team from opponents.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Smith, who had five catches for 43 yards in the season opener. “This is now one of the strengths of our team and people are confident that we can go in and everybody can contribute.”
A first-round pick last year, Nicks was the dominant receiver against the Panthers. His touchdown catches covered 26, 19 and 5 yards and the second one was clearly the best. Manning threw a streak route down the sideline and Nicks simply outjumped the defender in hauling it in.
“I think the sky is the limit for our group,” said Nicks, who only caught six touchdowns as a rookie. “I think we can be as good as we want to be. It’s just a matter of time and effort we put in.”
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride smiles when asked about his young recievers, particularly Manningham and Nicks.
Do they have talent? Yes!
Do they have potential? Yes!
Do they drive him crazy at time? Absolutely!
“You guys see the big plays, but I see the mistakes that we’re still making and the areas that we have to get better,” Gilbride said. “We have some good kids who have athleticism. All can make plays with their feet after they catch the ball. I feel good about that. They want to be good. That’s the starting point.”
Gilbride is just as quick to point out that his receivers need to mature and learn how to play the game. Their pass routes have to be more precise. Their blocking has to be better. They have to react to how the defenders play and showcase their abilities.
“As I say to them, eventually, it doesn’t take long to figure out,” Gilbride said. “It’s important that they continue to grow and develop so that in the areas that they (opponents) eventually take away, they open up other opportunities. Are you good enough to take advantage of those?”
Smith, the old man of the group, said the group is only going to get better.
“We’re definitely trying to eliminate those mental errors and trying to play faster,” Smith said Thursday. “We want to know as much as possible so we can go out there free, and make plays.”
Nicks rolled his right ankle in the second quarter against the Panthers and he has missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin is concerned about his status for Sunday against the Colts.
“I’m hoping. I’m hoping,” Coughlin said. “Really I was hoping he would maybe be able to do something today. But that wasn’t the case.”
Coughlin said missing practice hurts.
“It is hard to play well and not practice,” he said. “There are just so many things that happen out there.”
NOTES: Giants C Shaun O’Hara had to cut his practice short on Thursday because of a recurring problem with tendinitis in his left ankle. He expects to play on Sunday. “I was sore after the game,” O’Hara said. “Some days it has a mind of its own, and today it wasn’t real happy.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.