Osi Umenyiora returns to practice

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Just one day after Jason Pierre-Paul was named to the Pro Bowl, the New York Giants got another Pro Bowl defensive end back at practice.

Osi Umenyiora practiced for the first time since spraining his ankle against the Saints on Nov. 28. Umenyiora, who has missed four straight games, went through a limited practice but looked good in individual drills during the early portion of practice open to the media.

"He looked good," defensive end Dave Tollefson said. "When does he not look good?"

"You can't replace Osi Umenyiora," Tollefson added. "You can only keep the seat warm for a guy like that. Jason has been everything and plus some. The guy has played his butt off, he's humble and he's hungry and now we get another Pro Bowl guy back? Come on. Could you ask for anything better?"

He looked "as fast as ever," added linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka.

The Cowboys may have their own injury concerns with Tony Romo's swollen throwing hand and Felix Jones' hamstring. Both are expected to play on Sunday against the Giants with the NFC East at stake.

But the Giants have their share of injuries as two of their top three receivers are banged up. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks did not practice after straining his hamstring in the Giants' 29-14 win over the Jets.

However, Nicks says he will play in Sunday night's game.

Coach Tom Coughlin is optimistic that both Nicks and wide receiver Mario Manningham (knee) will play. Manningham went through a limited practice on Wednesday after sitting out Saturday's game against the Jets.

"Stay off it today, take care of it tomorrow and just keep taking it day to day," Nicks said. "I don't see myself missing this game."

Nicks said his hamstring injury is the same one that kept him out of the Giants' win at New England on Nov. 6. The wide receiver said he injured it late in the first quarter against the Jets last Saturday and was unable to go deep.

"I wouldn't say it is as bad [as it was earlier in the season] but it is definitely there and I can't really dig like I want to right now," Nicks said. "Honestly, it took away my deep part of my game. It affected some of my releases off the line but I wanted to stay out there because I know that even my presence out there still helps us out."

The Giants need Nicks, who had eight catches for 163 yards when they beat the Cowboys on Dec. 11 and has three career touchdowns against the Cowboys.

"I would like to say that I can be myself but you never know," Nicks said of playing on Sunday with this hamstring injury. "These things are tricky. I am going to go ahead and claim that I will be myself out there. I always got to think positive."

"It is all or nothing," Nicks added. "It is playoffs now. I don't see myself missing [the game]."

Coughlin would love to have Umenyiora to add to the Giants' pass rush in the most critical game of the season.

"He's tested everything, lots of times," Coughlin said of Umenyiora. "That's what he's been doing. He has been working his tail off. He just hasn't been able to get right."

The key will be seeing how Umenyiora's ankle responds and whether he will be able to push off on it. In Umenyiora's absence, Pierre-Paul has continued to blossom in just his second season and now is heading to his first Pro Bowl. Against the Cowboys, Pierre-Paul collected two sacks, one safety, one forced fumble and a blocked field goal.

He followed that up with 16 tackles and a sack against Washington and added two more sacks against the Jets.

Pierre-Paul, who turns 23 on Sunday, said he has no problem if the Giants start Umenyiora against the Cowboys.

"It doesn't matter if I start or not," said Pierre-Paul, who has started 11 games this season in place of an injured Justin Tuck or Umenyiora. "I'm still going to play hard no matter what."

"It's good," he added of Umenyiora's potential return. "I get a chance to rest. It's a good thing seeing him out there. That rest will help me a lot. It gets me going even more."

Pierre-Paul, Tuck and Umenyiora is a scary threesome for Romo to face with a swollen throwing hand.

"It continues to improve day by day," Romo said. "Today was good. I was able to do some things with the ball that we weren't sure about so it was a good start to the week. We are going to keep working on it and get all the treatment and stuff. We should be good to go for this weekend."

"I expect for them to come out and play tight man coverage and come after us," Romo added of the Giants defense. "That is what our game plan is, to be ready for that. They do it early in the game to see if they can get away with it and things of that nature. I just think that the fact that we are going to be on the road and they are going to be at home, they are going to want to set a certain type of tempo. I think they are going to bring a little bit extra pressure and play some man coverages. In a game like this, that's what they want to do."

The Giants would also like to be as healthy as possible. Besides Nicks, tight end Jake Ballard (knee), running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) and linebacker Mark Herzlich (ankle) were the only Giants not to practice on Wednesday.

Ballard did some light running on the side but could need another week to heal. Bradshaw sat out as part of his routine to rest his injured foot.

It was good for the Giants, though, to see Umenyiora back on the practice field. Tollefson said players had heard rumblings of Umenyiora nearing a return to the practice field prior to Wednesday.

"There were some birds talking ... it is kind of like Big Foot, you know?" Tollefson cracked. "Win you are in, lose you go home. You might as well pull all the stops."

"It'll be pretty impeccable timing to get everyone healthy and running," Tollefson added of Sunday's winner-take-the-NFC-East game. "That is the plan."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com.