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Clayton, Thomas itching to go for Giants

With injuries to starting wide receivers Steve Smith

With injuries to starting wide receivers Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks, replacements Michael Clayton (above) and Devin Thomas will have to step up. (Aug. 21, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

When the Giants were without Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks earlier this season, they had to scurry to find receivers to take their places not only in games but in practices.

They wound up acquiring Michael Clayton and Devin Thomas, players who were highly thought of when drafted but whose NFL careers never had found any traction. Clayton had spent some of the season in the UFL and Thomas had been waived by two losing teams.

It probably was too much to ask of them to show up and contribute to the offense on such short notice. Thomas hasn't even run an offensive snap for the Giants yet, and Clayton has had one pass thrown in his direction in a half-dozen or so plays. As the receivers got healthy, Clayton and Thomas faded back on the depth chart.

Now, with Smith on injured reserve and Nicks almost certainly unavailable Sunday with a broken big toe, the Giants don't have to go scrambling looking for bodies. They already have them on the roster. And from the sound of it, they intend to use them.

"They're in the mix, they're practicing, they're involved," coach Tom Coughlin said. "They'll certainly show what they can do this weekend."

Coincidentally, it was against the Redskins that the Giants played their best game without Nicks and Smith on Dec. 5. They did that with a slimmed-down game plan that required a three-receiver set only a handful of times. Now that Clayton and Thomas have become more integrated in the offense, though, the Giants shouldn't be as handcuffed in the passing game.

And the two are eager to get their hands on the football.

"Itching," Clayton said. "Man, I got a rash."

"I feel like it's a bigger possibility," Thomas said of getting snaps with Nicks and Smith sidelined again. "It leaves more room for me to get in there with the rotation. I'm looking forward to making an appearance on offense and making some plays for us, helping us win this game."

Eli Manning said earlier in the week that he didn't expect the offense to change with his top two receivers out. Manning came to rely on Nicks in recent weeks, sometimes to the quarterback's detriment, such as when he forced passes in his direction that were intercepted. He won't have that go-to guy Sunday.

Coughlin has reiterated that the reason the Giants were so successful against the Redskins without Smith and Nicks was their ability to run the ball, an aspect of the offense that has been lacking in the last two weeks. The Giants lost both of those games, so look for them to return to a ground-based offense.

But that doesn't mean they won't throw the ball at all. Some of those passes could wind up going to Clayton or Thomas.

"They're a little bit more comfortable with me being in, so I may get a chance," Clayton said. "The thing a wide receiver wants to do most is catch balls."

They can contribute in other ways, of course. Clayton, known as much for his blocking as his receiving, has had a few good hits to help the running game. Thomas had an exceptional special-teams game against the Redskins - one of his former teams - and said he understands that's where he is most valuable to the Giants now.

Still, both would love to erase the zero from the receptions column on the 2010 stat sheet.

"I'm ready to catch a ball; that's what I'm looking forward to," Thomas said.

"I'm definitely hungry waiting for my first one," Clayton said. "We'll see what happens on Sunday."

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