BOURBONNAIS – He’s one of those players that can show off his personality in a number of ways on and off the field.
Sure, you know him for his famous ‘Salsa’ dance celebrations after touchdowns that he’s done from the regular season to the Super Bowl in six seasons with the New York Giants.
But Thursday showed a subtle way that Victor Cruz can show off his personality. He was able to do so with the inflection of his voice and his facial expression when describing the Bears’ wide receiver room so far in his first few months with the team.
“It’s weird because when I start talking, whenever I give a coaching point or say something, they’re just like ‘He’s talking to us,” said Cruz, with a smile on his face with a childish gaze to the sky, earning a few laughs from reporters. “So it’s a good feeling and I want to make sure that I’m telling them the right things.”
After all, it worked for him back in 2010 when he was the last one the Giants were looking up to in the receiver room. He stood out in preseason then lost most of the year to a hamstring injury, forcing him to work his way back onto the field to make a name for himself in 2011. For the next three years he caught at least 73 passes each season and helped the Giants to a Super Bowl XLVI title in February of 2012.
“It’s funny when I speak and they listen,” said Cruz – who joins the Bears after being released by the Giants in the offseason.
As he arrives in Chicago, he sees a similar player to himself lining up next to him in practice. Like Cruz, this receiver wasn’t drafted after a standout career at a smaller football school and had to work his way onto the roster. Two years later, this pass catcher finds himself as one of the main targets for a new look Bears offense in 2017.
“I’m humble,” said Cameron Meredith, a Berwyn native, standout at Illinois State, who was the Bears’ No. 1 receiver a year ago.
With Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White injured, it was Meredith who stepped in to catch a team-high 66 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns. They weren’t exactly eye-popping numbers which came on a three-win team, but shades of potential continue to emerge from this once unknown receiver whom John Fox said the team spotted at a regional college combine in 2015.
“He had the skill set,” said Fox of Meredith. “He’s mentally prepared himself and worked very hard and he’s got great work ethic and that’s why he continues to grow.”
That will dictate just how good Meredith can end up being as he enters his third season with the Bears. White is back healthy and Cruz has been added to the receiver room along with veteran Kendall Wright. Others like Daniel Braverman and Josh Bellamy will once again compete for the playing time they had last year along with Meredith when injuries presented opportunities to both.
“You have to still keep getting better,” said Meredith. “At this level, there is always another player that’s trying to do more than you are. I’ve definitely got confidence in myself, confidence in my game and I know what I can do, because I’ve gone out there and done it before so just go out there and do more is what I’m focusing on now.”
As for the man Meredith would like to emulate – the once undrafted Cruz – he has reason to believe that this Chicago-native could be one of those guys that goes from anonymity to standout.
“I think the sky is the limit for him as long as he continues to put the work in and pay attention to detail and understand that there is always room for growth,” said Cruz of Meredith. “No matter what you’ve done, no matter how many seasons you’ve played, no matter how many balls you’ve caught, there is always room for improvement.
“As long as he’s able to continue to know that and understand that, even when he becomes a two-or-three time Pro Bowler, god willing, in the future, there is still work to be done.”
All Meredith has to do is look down the line, listen in the wide receivers room, or check out a news conference to see the perfect example.