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Week 5 will be the third week in a row that Eli Manning and the Giants offense will be without their top wide receiver, Hakeem Nicks. His absence becomes a bit more significant against the Browns, though, because late-blooming receiver Ramses Barden will also be missing the game with a concussion.
Domenik Hixon, who hauled in six catches for 114 yards in place of Nicks a week ago, will be a sure start opposite Victor Cruz against the Browns.
However, Barden’s injury raises a looming question mark at the team’s third wide receiver position. New York will need at least one of the two other receivers currently on the roster to help ease the pain for an aching unit.
After Hixon and Cruz, rookie Rueben Randle may be the first wideout called into duty on Sunday. Randle hasn’t exactly experienced a warm welcome to the NFL; the rookie’s work ethic has been in question by teammates and media outlets all week.
Cruz’s “lollygagging” accusations may have been the most scathing comments made about Randle, but Hixon, Manning, Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride have all weighed in on the rookie’s impact as well (h/t Paul Schwartz, New York Post). Randle was able to shrug off the harsh words from his critics, setting the stage for a “prove it” game against the Browns this Sunday.
For the most part, Coughlin backed Randle, calling him a “young guy that wants to do well,” but he knows that won’t directly translate into success on game day (h/t Jorge Castillo, The Star-Ledger). That’s why Coughlin specified that second-year receiver Jerrel Jernigan has a role in Sunday’s game as well.
If Randle gets off to a slow start, it would be extremely surprising to see Jernigan have an explosive performance in his relief. The former third-round draft pick out of Troy has yet to catch a pass with the Giants, as the young pass-catcher has struggled to adjust to the professional game.
Still, Jernigan will have to come out fighting on Sunday if he wants to avoid becoming completely irrelevant. In the preseason, he lost his job as a return man due to ball security issues, and since then, Jernigan has been a bottom-feeder on New York’s depth chart.
Both Randle and Jernigan should be highly motivated to make a difference against the Browns. It should be fun to watch them duke it out.