MONROE TOWNSHIP, MIDDLESEX COUNTY — The ex-Giants player formerly known as the "Touchdown Maker" thinks this year's group of receivers has the potential to score lots of them.
Stephen Baker, a wide receiver with the Giants from 1987-1992, won a Super Bowl with the team in 1990, including a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Hostetler late in the 2nd quarter.
Baker still keeps a close eye on his former team, and believes that, unlike his old Giants teams that were built around the running game, the current Giants receivers give the offense explosive potential.
"I think [the Giants offense] will be a matchup nightmare, and I love the diversity of the receivers," Baker said before the New York Yankees Charity Golf Tournament at the Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township. "You've got little Cruz, who can shake and bake in the middle, then you've got Beckham on the outside, who's just explosive, and then you have Randle, I consider him a smooth receiver, when he catches a pass, he just looks smooth. I like him as a third down possession-type guy."
While many fans fixate on the tantalizing possibilities of a Cruz-Beckham tandem, Baker actually believes that Randle is the key to giving the Giants an elite passing game. Randle put up solid numbers in 2014, but was also benched twice by the coaching staff and is still lacking consistency.
"[Randle's] got to come on strong this year so we can have that triple threat and that will be a matchup nightmare for defenses, trust me they won't know what to do," Baker said. "Eli's smart enough now, and been around long enough that he can pick up the single coverage, because they've got to double somebody and trust me we'll eat people alive if we can just stay healthy, that's the key."
Those double teams will likely be covering Beckham, who, Baker acknowledged, won't be sneaking up on defenses like he did as a rookie. Baker also said he was not concerned that the off-the-field distractions that New York City provide would be a problem with Beckham, thanks, in part to the kindred spirits of his Giants coach, Bill Parcells, and Tom Coughlin.
"I know back in the day Bill Parcells would have made sure you stay grounded," Baker said. "Knowing that Tom Coughlin is a throwback from us, I'm sure that it's been instilled in [Beckham], but ultimately he has to make those decisions. You have to remember what got you here, and sometimes that can get lost, and he's just got to stay grounded. For somebody like me and the old guys, it's easy. You understand, 'I've worked hard to get here, I'm gonna stay here.' But there are so many sidebars now, stuff going on, it's kind of tough to stay grounded."
The Giants receiver who still has to get off the ground is Cruz, who is rigorously rehabbing from a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. Baker never suffered an injury of that magnitude, but he said he repeatedly dislocated his shoulder in college, and said that the psychological aspect of returning from a serious injury is the most difficult part.
"There always comes a time where, no matter how much training you've done, there comes that moment of truth, and when that moment of truth [comes], you're either gonna wipe [the injury] out of your mind, or it's gonna always be lingering," Baker said. "Mine came when I had to jump up for a pass and I knew what was happening, I said 'Ok, here we go, if this shoulder comes out, then I'm done.' I came down on it, the shoulder didn't come out and I never thought about it again. That's the biggest hurdle [for Cruz]."
Baker added that he saw the video updates that Cruz has been posting of his rehab progress, and that "he's looking good."
These days, Baker has given up his 15-year gig as a permanent substitute teacher at the James J. Flynn Elementary School in Perth Amboy, instead focusing on motivational speaking engagements and charity work, like the Yankees' golf tournament, with proceeds from the event going towards the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Pediatric Cancer Center, the Boomer Esiason Foundation Fighting Cystic Fibrosis, and Tic Toc Stop, a Tourette's syndrome charity.
"I [taught] for 15 years, and don't get me wrong, I loved every minute of it, because I was at one school and every year the kids would know me, and every day I high-fived kids for 15 years and I do miss it," Baker said. "So now I'm just doing what I like to do, go out on speaking engagements, golf outings, and just having fun."
Nick Powell | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com | May 20, 2015