Everyone, from his coaches to his personal trainer to Giants executives to Victor Cruz himself, insisted his recovery was going better than expected. He looked great. He had no restrictions. He was even ahead of schedule. A return for Opening Day sounded guaranteed.
Then, almost exactly a year ago, Cruz suffered what he insisted was a very "minor" calf injury.
Three months later he was on his way for surgery and his season was officially declared over, with Cruz never playing a game.
That's the backdrop that can't be ignored now that Cruz has missed two days of practices with "just a little tightness" in his groin. Cruz didn't sound worried. Neither did his head coach. And neither did many others in the Giants organization. From all indications it's nothing serious. It's not a worrisome setback; just a bump in the comeback road.
The only problem is: That's exactly what everyone first thought and said about his calf injury last year. And that didn't turn out so well.
That doesn't mean anyone should panic yet. But a more-than-mild concern is appropriate and it will grow each day the Giants' popular receiver is on the sidelines. He will certainly sit out Friday's preseason opener. There seems to be some hope that he'll return to practice on Sunday.
If not … well, the anxiety meter about his season and career will suddenly shoot sky high.
"It's a process," Cruz said in an interview on ESPN Radio on Wednesday. "Everybody understands that it's a process. That time will come (when he can return to the field), and I just have to make sure I'm ready when it does come, and that I am doing all necessary things I need to do in preparation for that moment. I've come such a long way, that I don't want to do anything stupid to regress my progress."
All of that may be true, and the odds are still good that this will turn out to be mostly nothing. But everything feels like something when it comes to this injury-plagued 29-year-old. On Friday, it will have been 22 months exactly since he suffered his devastating knee injury in Philadelphia. He still hasn't proven he can come back from that.
When he tried last season, he ended up injuring his calf, an injury that, depending on whom you believe, may have been due to overcompensating from the knee. So now, at an age when many football players begin to decline, Cruz is trying to come back from two major injuries to his legs and two surgeries. And when (or if) he does make it back to the field, he still has to show he hasn't lost a step (or several), and that he can be some semblance of the player he used to be.
None of that is a given, and there's no way to know if, at his age and with his recent history, he's not going to be doomed to a career full of minor injuries like strained groins. Cruz did everything he could to make sure he could get through camp fully healthy, without even a minor setback.
Then he didn't even last two weeks.
"I'm not worried about it," he said. "It's not a big deal. It's something that happens. But I anticipate being back out there in a few days, and getting after it again."
The good news is Cruz has plenty of time. The Giants, as optimistic as they've sounded about him, know they can't completely count on Cruz. They've moved forward with plans for rookie Sterling Shepard to start opposite Odell Beckham Jr. Several young receivers, including Geremy Davis, have made moves up the depth chart with strong camps. Coupled with the increasingly diverse offense that it looks like Ben McAdoo plans to run, the Giants can survive without Cruz, just like they did last year. As GM Jerry Reese said at the start of last summer, any contribution from Cruz would be a "bonus".
Cruz will get as much of this season as the Giants can give him to complete his comeback. It seems unlikely the Giants would cut such a popular player, especially when there'd be no financial incentive to do that. (He'd actually count slightly more against the cap if he were released.) The Giants' intention is to give him all the time he needs and then take whatever he's able to give.
How much that is remains to be seen, but it's understandable that all the people that were dreaming of the Beckham-Cruz duo a week ago are now crossing their fingers and holding their breath. Very often a "tight groin" is nothing.
But it sure feels much worse when it happens to a player who's been trying desperately to get healthy for nearly two years.