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Bears WR Victor Cruz eager to prove worth: ‘I still have a lot left in the tank’

  • Chicago Bears wide receiver Victor Cruz, left, and wide receiver Markus Wheaton work on the field during an NFL football training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill., Saturday, July 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) Nam Huh



Chicago Tribune
Wednesday, August 09, 2017

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — For a moment Saturday, Victor Cruz seemed ready to break into full celebration mode. The veteran receiver had made a shrewd route adjustment during the Bears’ Family Fest scrimmage, knifing between safeties Quentin Demps and Adrian Amos and turning a Mark Sanchez pass into a 48-yard touchdown catch.

So here came Cruz’s trademark salsa dance, right? The former UMass star thought about it, then stopped.

“I’ll save it for game day,” he said. “I don’t want to give up too much too early.”

Besides, Cruz is confident there will be ample opportunity for him to dance when the real games begin next month, when the stage is better lit and the stakes are heightened. At 30 and in his eighth NFL season, Cruz believes a rebirth year could be ahead.

“I still I have a lot left in the tank,” he said. “I still have the savvy to get in between those ‘backers and safeties and make things happen.”

At the very least, when Cruz signed a one-year contract with the Bears in May, he recognized an opportunity, joining a receiving corps that is young and unproven and lacking a veteran presence.

“I saw an opportunity to be a voice to this group,” Cruz said. “I know I can be a resource as a guy who has been through so many of the highs and the lows in this league. But I also know I can be someone who can produce and still perform at a high level”

It’s not entirely accurate to say Cruz is starting over. After all, he still has 70 games of NFL experience and 303 career catches to draw from. But Cruz understands he has started anew with the Bears — in a new system, with new coaches and new quarterbacks to get used to.

“It’s a different vibe. Different teammates,” Cruz said. “But it’s a good feeling, just to have some new energy around me.”

It also has given this training camp a different feel. And it’s why, starting with Thursday’s exhibition opener against the Broncos, the Bears’ upcoming preseason games will have more urgency.

Cruz still is assimilating into the offense and has acknowledged the nuances he still needs to master. It’s not only understanding the playbook and where he fits, it’s developing timing with his quarterbacks and understanding the details of every route combination.

“At this level, there are so many different ways and nuances that a play can be run,” Cruz said. “So you really have to push to get your mind cleared, to understand all those little things happening in front of you and why they’re happening. That’s where I’m at right now.”

Even with that learning curve, Cruz remains certain he can be an impact playmaker. And through the first two weeks of training camp, he has felt his quickness springing him open consistently.

“He has great feel for the game,” Bears coach John Fox said. “Sometimes it might not be just how fast they are physically but how fast they play, and he seems to be that type of guy. He still has plenty of gas in the tank.”

Added cornerback Prince Amukamara: “You still can see his physicality. He still has that quick burst. His hands are sure. ... Plus his veteran presence is so valuable. It’s the way he runs good routes, how he has played in big games and how he always knows what to look for.”

Such praise is refreshing, particularly after the internal doubts that dogged Cruz in 2014 and 2015 when he missed 26 games because of serious knee and calf injuries. There were moments, Cruz admits, when he feared his NFL career was fading away for good.

“There’s a ton of that, man,” he said. “That anxiety’s for real. And it can weigh on your psyche.”

Now, though, such anxiety has vanished. Opportunity has knocked.

Cruz knows outsiders will doubt the idea that his career arc is about to shoot back upward. But he’s eager for this chance to prove his worth.

“In all honesty,” he said, “I’m ready to get out there and let it loose.”