Victor Cruz dons the red jersey at Giants practice

Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz celebrates after catching Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz celebrates after catching a pass during the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday. (Dec. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Victor Cruz returned to practice Thursday and said he felt like "a cool nine-and-a-half" out of 10. Funny, he looked more like an 8.

That's because the wide receiver was wearing a different jersey for the workout, a red one that sported only the first digit of his familiar 80. The change was made to alert everyone that Cruz was a "noncontact" player, to be extended the same buffer zone of bumps and blocks as are the quarterbacks.

The Giants rarely employ the red jersey for non-quarterbacks, but Tom Coughlin admitted that "it's an unusual situation."

The Giants are trying to get Cruz to Sunday's game against the Raiders as healthy as possible. He seemed to have recovered from his neck injury, suffered nearly two weeks ago against the Eagles, until he awoke with stiffness on Tuesday. He sat out Wednesday. On Thursday, he officially was a limited participant but did everything he normally does. Except hit and be hit. He won't have that luxury on Sunday.

Cruz is expected to be back in the white 80 jersey on Friday. But despite some ribbing from teammates -- Justin Tuck teased him about being "fragile" -- Cruz seemed to enjoy the new look.

"I kind of like the red jersey," he said. "I was fooling around with Eli [Manning, and told him] if he needed a break at any time, I'm available."

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Pierre-Paul said he is 90 percent back from offseason back surgery, the recovery from which has been arduous throughout the first half of this season. In the last two practices, the defensive end has been flying around, energetic, and, he said, not thinking about his back.

"I think the bye week helped him a lot," Fewell said. "He's got pep in his step and we're looking for big things."

Giant steps

CB Trumaine McBride (groin) did not practice but expected to be back on Friday . . . TE Adrien Robinson (foot) was a full practice participant and is expected to see his first action of the season Sunday . . . Raiders RB Darren McFadden (hamstring) missed a second straight practice, but QB Terrelle Pryor (knee) was a full participant.

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