It's been nearly three years since Marvin Austin last played in a football game that counted, but he can remember it as if it were yesterday.
Austin, a second-year defensive tackle with the Giants, was a junior at the University of North Carolina, which played Pittsburgh in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in December 2009.
"I almost got a sack," Austin said, shaking his head. "It's been extremely tough since then. But you just try to be optimistic and try to be positive."
For the first time in a long time, Austin will have a concrete reason to be optimistic when he wakes up Sunday morning. He has a shot to play in his first NFL regular-season game when the Giants host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium.
Austin was suspended for his senior year at North Carolina for NCAA rules infractions. Chosen by the Giants in the second round of the 2011 draft, he sat out that season after tearing a pectoral muscle. Then Austin suffered a back injury this preseason that forced him to miss the Giants' opener.
He is listed as probable for Sunday, though it doesn't sound as though coach Tom Coughlin is convinced that he is ready to see a lot of playing time.
"He's missed a lot of time, so I think he's gradually going to get back into it," Coughlin said after practice Friday. "This was a good starting point for him, to be out here practicing so that he can be evaluated afterwards by the medical people for having completed a practice."
Austin said his back felt OK, and he clearly is itching to get back on the field. He did play in the preseason against Jacksonville, but he is excited to be in a game that matters.
"I'm preparing as if I'm going to play," he said. "I just want to help any way that I can. I feel fortunate that I am playing for the New York Giants. What percent of people can say that? I think when I get out there, it's all going to be worth the wait."
Notes & quotes: WR Hakeem Nicks sat out practice Friday after working out fully Thursday. Nicks, who continues to have issues after suffering a broken right foot in May, is listed as questionable . . . WR Victor Cruz missed practice to attend the funeral of his grandmother, who died Monday . . . CB Prince Amukamara (foot) is listed as probable. He said he hopes to play . . . C David Baas, who has a bruised hip, missed practice but is listed as probable . . . DE Adewale Ojomo is out.