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Giants need rookie receivers to catch on quickly:

From Clark Judge of CBSSportsline:

The Giants call it their first minicamp for rookies, but who are they kidding? This weekend’s three-day workout is more like an audition for New York’s two most important additions.

Would Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden please step forward?

Nicks is the team’s first-round draft pick; Barden was a third-rounder. Both are wide receivers, which means now and for the rest of the summer they will be subjected to stress tests by the Giants, the media that covers them and the fans who follow them.

It’s not just that Nicks and Barden are supposed to be contributors this coming season, it’s that the Giants can’t afford for them not to be. This is a team that needs wide receivers like McDonald’s needs napkins, and Nicks and Barden offer hope that maybe the Giants will be OK now that Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer are gone.

Replacing Burress, of course, is the bigger concern, with the Giants unable to find an outside threat late last season to make a second Super Bowl run. They won their division and gained home-field advantage for the playoffs. They also dropped four of their final five games, including their lone playoff contest, and they did it because opponents discovered how crippled the Giants’ passing game was with Burress out of the lineup.

You want proof? Try this: Over his final five games, Eli Manning threw no touchdown passes to a wide receiver, and the Giants had only one in their final 23 quarters.

That’s another way of saying the Giants need a playmaker at wide receiver. They were supposed to find him in Braylon Edwards, the wide receiver Cleveland dangled before the draft, but they bowed out of talks when the Browns’ price got too high. So they waited for the draft to find replacements for Burress and Toomer, then wheeled them out in front of the media Friday morning to catch passes from Andre Woodson and rookie Rhett Bomar.

“Your impressions?” coach Tom Coughlin was asked after the morning workout.

“They caught the ball,” he said.

“Anything more?”

“They caught the ball well,” Coughlin said.

That is what wide receivers are supposed to do. And it’s what these wide receivers must do. Receivers typically take at least a season before excelling, but the Giants can’t afford to wait. They just lost their best receiver in Burress, and now they need someone to become the deep threat … the red-zone threat … the big-play threat Burress was in his four seasons here.

Nicks is the obvious choice. The Giants thought so much of him they made him the 29th pick in the draft, and Nicks’ former coach — North Carolina’s Butch Davis — said something recently about how much Nicks reminds him of Michael Irvin. The Giants will take that, but they need it now. Someone has to fill the void left by Burress immediately.

“I feel like I’m ready for the next step,” Nicks said Friday. “At the same time, nothing is going to be given to me. I still have to work hard for everything. Nothing is going to be put in my hands, and I don’t expect it to. I just have to continue doing what I do.”

And what he does is catch almost everything thrown at him. It is significant that at Friday morning’s practice the first pass in teamwork drills was aimed at Nicks — a deep ball he probably would’ve caught had it not been underthrown. No problem, Nicks ran the same route later, and this time he outran cornerback Stoney Woodson to the football.

“Did you have any drops today?” he was asked.

“No,” he said, “but that’s my job description.”

It is now. It’s the job description for Barden, too, the 6-foot-6, 227-pounder from Cal Poly. Barden has Burress’ size, and he has the productivity, too — 122 catches, 2,724 yards and 36 touchdowns the past two seasons. While he lacks straight-line speed, he is deceptively fast, averaging 20.2 yards a catch in his collegiate career. Of course, critics wonder how he will make the jump from small-college football to the pros, but you might direct them to Philadelphia’s Chris Gocong. He played at Cal Poly, too, and now starts at strong-side linebacker for the Eagles.

Barden is worth a look, and that’s based on a career where he had at least one touchdown catch in 32 games, breaking Jerry Rice’s record of 26, and was a two-time consensus All-American.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to be the best I can be,” he said. “The main thing is the effort, and I can’t stress that enough. It’s going to be how hard I’m willing to work to earn the respect of the players and the coaches [that will determine what happens]. I have all the confidence in my ability, but I have something to prove as well. I want to prove I’m the player they expect me to be and that I can be.”

Like Nicks, Barden did not miss a catch Friday morning. His routes were shorter than his teammate’s, but he caught whatever was aimed at him. That’s a start. The rest is up to these two rookies, and it should come as some comfort that three wide receivers taken in last year’s draft — Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson, the Rams’ Donnie Avery and Denver’s Eddie Royal — were among the league’s top pass catchers.

The Giants need that to happen again, and though they won’t rush things they did have Nicks pose for photos after Friday morning’s practice with a starter’s jersey.

The message couldn’t be clearer.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Nicks said. “I just want to go out and play the game I’ve been playing; do what I have been doing to get me to this point. Nothing is guaranteed.”

As a matter of fact, yes, it is. The Giants need Hicks and/or Barden to make an impact — now more than ever.


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