Hakeem Nicks prances intoo the end zone for a touchdown...

Hakeem Nicks prances intoo the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter vs. Tampa Bay at MetLife Stadium. (Sept. 16, 2012) Credit: David Pokress

Hakeem Nicks is inching closer to a seat on the plane.

The Giants' wide receiver who missed the last three games with foot and knee injuries was on the practice field Thursday for the first time in two weeks. He's expected back there today, and if he emerges from that workout without issues he will likely join the team for its cross-country flight to face the 49ers.

"Tomorrow," Nicks said, "is going to be the defining day."

That's because the last time he practiced, Sept. 27, he came in the following day with swelling in his knee. That, not the recovery from offseason foot surgery, has been the reason he's missed the last two games.

At this point, Nicks said he's at least "ready to see" if he can withstand a practice and potentially a game on Sunday.

"It's been three games," he said. "I'm ready to get back out there. But I've just got to be patient. I've been down this road before. It ain't nothing new. I've just got to get back right."

Having Nicks back will force the 49ers to account for him, which should open things up for the running game. The last time he played, he caught 10 passes for 199 yards against the Bucs in a game in which he said he was "just getting into it a little bit."

"There's a reason he's a starter, and you see the contribution he's capable of making when you see Tampa Bay," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "That's the difference."

Gilbride has been pleased with how Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden and Rueben Randle have filled in. Nicks voiced admiration for the understudies, too, but seemed to think it was time for the star to return to the stage.

"We all know what I can bring to the table when I'm out there," Nicks said. "Right now it's just a matter of making sure I'm able to compete at the highest level. It's just a matter of me taking care of my body.''

Nicks said he's not sure when he hurt his knee. He believes it occurred because of overcompensating for his foot. He said it won't need surgery and should not linger for much longer.

He couldn't work for most of the preseason, played in two games and has practiced only a few times. Even if he plays Sunday, he likely won't be at full strength.

"To get him back would be great," Gilbride said. "Just getting him back is one thing. What level is he able to play at? That's another. So that's what we'll have to wait and see."

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