At a time of the season when most NFL teams are being worn down by injuries, the Giants appear to be getting healthier. It's conceivable that over the next three weeks they could have three key offensive pieces back on the field, just in time for a final push toward the playoffs.
"They always talk about how the season is a marathon and not a sprint, but we're in our last five weeks here and it's an even playing field and we control our own destiny," said tackle David Diehl, the injured player who appears to be closest to a return and could be on the field Sunday against the Redskins. "It's all about how we play these next five Sundays. That's what's going to determine our final outcome."
Diehl was limited in practice Wednesday, the first time he participated at all since he injured his hip and hamstring a month ago against the Seahawks. Receiver Steve Smith, meanwhile, was on the practice field running routes and catching passes during the drill portion of the workout. Officially he did not practice because he did not take any team snaps, but that's the most activity he's seen since partially tearing his pectoral muscle three weeks ago.
Smith said there's a possibility he can play on Sunday, but a more realistic target is for the following week against the Vikings. Hakeem Nicks, who underwent surgery to repair compartment syndrome in his lower left leg, said he's striving to play in that Vikings game, but a realistic return for him would be the following week's rematch against the Eagles.
If all of that holds, the Giants could be at virtual full strength on offense for the final three weeks of the regular season.
Diehl took snaps at left tackle Wednesday and admitted that he's not 100 percent healed and that the hamstring "just reminds you that it's there." He's not pushing it, although he would like to.
"Our coaches and our training staff know how I am mentally and they're not letting me go out there and go crazy like I want to," he said. "As long as I keep making the progress I'm making, it looks good."
Smith, meanwhile, was wearing a protective brace under his shoulder pads to limit the range of his right arm when he runs. "It felt good," he said. "It feels like my motion's there. It's just like a mental thing, a confidence thing now. They say that it's just going to be a little bit of discomfort, but you've got to go out there and feel it out for yourself."
Nicks said he doesn't expect to be limited at all when he returns. "I don't think it'll really bother me because I don't feel it that much walking around now," he said. "It's just a matter of the scar healing. I think I'll be fine."
Nicks is targeting Wednesday for a return to running and expects to be at practice that day.
Nicks said he doesn't know when the injury took place, but in the second quarter of the game against the Eagles he started to feel some tightness in the area. "I didn't pay it no attention," he said. "At the end of the game they noticed it a little bit and were like 'Come in in the morning.' I came in in the morning and they said 'You have to take care of it.' "
Nicks thought he was going to the Hospital for Special Surgery for an MRI, since his calf had swollen up about two inches bigger than the other.
Compartment syndrome, if not treated quickly, can lead to nerve and muscle damage. Nicks said he wasn't told how far away from that point he was. "They just said we caught it just in time," he said.
Now he and Smith hope to be catching passes - with Diehl catching pass rushers - just in time for the most critical portion of the season.