EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** When Rashad Jennings suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament on Oct. 5, he was the Giants' leading rusher with 396 yards. Jennings' total hasn't changed since then, because he's missed the last four games. But he still tops the Giants in rushing yardage.
His replacement, Andre Williams, has 23 more carries than Jennings, but has averaged just 2.9 yards a carry. Jennings' absence wasn't the sole reason the Giants lost all four of those games. But it certainly hurt. So it's no secret why the coaches and players are excited to get him back on the field for the Giants' home game Sunday vs. the San Francisco 49ers.
"Having Rashad back will definitely be helpful," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Andre's done a great job at running back, but having that one-two punch is going to be a good combination. He was playing well for us before he got injured, does a lot of things in the pass game and in the run game, so it will be good to have both guys in there."
"(Jennings) will give our team an outstanding lift," coach Tom Coughlin said today.
"That's what I tend to do," Jennings said. "The lift, I think it always comes with emotion, with 53 men. I think if you can drive emotions out of them, that's how you get a team. Regardless if I'm the one running the ball at the time or protecting or catching or whatever, if every guy feels that they are the best player, if every guy feels we're in it together, if every guy keeps fighting and somebody keeps being in each other's ears, that's how you get a team. That's what I think I bring to the table, more than necessarily my talent."
Jennings grew antsy rehabilitating and attending meetings without being able to suit up. When the Giants were on the road – as they were Sunday when they lost to the Seattle Seahawks – Jennings watched the game on television, accompanied only by his Shipoo (a Shih Tzu/poodle) named Loopy.
"You get antsy," he said. "You feel like something's taken away from you. Seeing plays you feel like you could have possibly made or been on the sideline for energy, you just feel like you could contribute in some way, shape or form, even if it's just giving the team some water. When you've got to watch it from your couch with your little dog beside you, it isn't fun. You find yourself talking to the T.V. a lot. I understand injuries are part of the game. It's kind of behind us now, so I'm just looking at what I can control."
Jennings returned to practice last week on limited basis, working with the scout team. He's still limited, but now he's working with the offense.
"We selectively worked him," Coughlin said. "We thought he did well under those circumstances a week ago, and I think we will progress throughout the course of this week and hopefully, without a setback, now he will be ready to go."
"I'm definitely encouraged," Jennings said. "Every day it's been getting better. Every single day I'm getting back to being me. I'm just taking it day-by-day."
The Giants need Jennings both for production and depth. Williams has 114 rushing attempts this season, including four touchdowns of three or less yards. Of his other 110 carries, 75 (68.2 percent) have gained less than four yards. It's not all his fault, of course, but the Giants need to gain more yards on the ground and Jennings is a proven producer. Of his 91 attempts, 47 have gained less than four yards (51.6 percent).
In addition, the Giants are suddenly thin at running back. Peyton Hillis did not practice because of the concussion he suffered Sunday in Seattle. Michael Cox was placed on injured reserve with the fractured lower leg he sustained in the same game. The Giants today signed Orleans Darkwa off the Miami Dolphins' practice squad, but he can't be expected to play a significant role against the 49ers.
Jennings cautioned, however, that he alone can't rejuvenate the rushing attack.
"You can't do it by yourself," he said. "If you ever see the run game being positive, it's simply because the offensive line and quarterback are putting us in the right play and the receivers and tight ends blocking downfield. If you don't see it moving forward, I think it's because of us in the backfield. That's how we feel as a unit. It's a good offensive line, it's a good team. It's not a matter of one person. Collectively, 11 men have to do their job."
But having Jennings as the one running the ball will certainly help.
"(I'm) anxious to get back on the field," he said. "This is my livelihood, this is what I do as a profession. It's my job, it's my business, it's what I love to do. When you're unable to perform on the field, you feel like something's stripped away from you. But it was a time where I think on and off the field I was able to recalibrate some things and come back to the game with a stronger perspective."
The Giants are counting on it.