Because he glides so smoothly down a football field, Hakeem Nicks has never been considered a grinder, a player who has to battle for everything he gets.
But that's exactly what he's been the first half of this season. Foot and knee injuries limited the Giants' terrific wide receiver to four appearances in the first seven weeks. And when he did play, Nicks wasn't at the top of his game.
"I won't say (I was) frustrated, but you've just got to fight through it," Nicks said today. "It's a grind, especially when you've got one right foot and a left knee (hurting); it's nothing you can do to compensate for that. So you've just got to grind through it and I feel like I grind through it."
Nicks can easily recall plays he didn't make but firmly believes he could have had he been fully healthy. One occurred near the end of the Giants' 27-23 victory over Washington last Sunday. On a third-and-one with 3:15 remaining, Eli Manning threw for Nicks on the right sideline. A completion would have virtually sealed the game. But the two failed to connect and the Giants were forced to punt, igniting a chain of events that resulted in each team scoring a touchdown in the last 1:32.
After the game, Manning took responsibility for the incompletion. Today, Nicks said it was up to him to catch the ball.
"Two weeks in a row, I didn't connect with Eli on third down," Nicks said. "(In) San Fran (on) third-and-one, Washington third-and-(one). So I don't like that. I blame myself. Usually, I come up with a catch like that somehow, someway. I didn't like that too much, so I went and looked at film and I said that can't happen anymore."
Based on the progress reports regarding Nicks' health, it shouldn't occur again. Nicks practiced without limitations today and later in the locker room he was noticeably enthused. Nicks should be better physically than he has been all season when the Giants face the Cowboys Sunday in Dallas.
"Today was a great practice for me," Nicks said. "My body feels good. I feel like I'm back to myself again, so I'm looking forward to a big week."
Manning noticed a difference in Nicks today.
"He was running well, running better," Manning said. "That's what we need. We need him to be his old, dominant self. That one-on-one coverage, he's beating everybody, he's making plays. He's confident running full speed, stopping, breaking, and cutting. Hopefully, it'll get back real soon. I know he wants to get back there, he's working hard, he wants to be back to his old self and feel that he can do everything that he normally can."
Nicks missed most of the preseason while rehabilitating his surgically-repaired foot. Then he hurt his knee during a 10-catch, 199-yard performance against Tampa Bay in Week 2. He missed three games, but is still tied for third on the team with 22 receptions.
"Dealing with the knee, my burst wasn't there," he said. "I couldn't really separate in my routes and then with the foot, trying to get in and out of my breaks fast…it was just having to feel it out. Now I've been practicing on it last week. That was my first time all season having a full week of practice, so I think that kind of helped me and led up to the game. I look at the San Fran game and then look at the Redskins game, I ran a whole lot better than I did versus that game and I think each week will get a lot better."
Now Nicks is convinced the best is about to begin.
"I'm a lot healthier now, especially over the last couple of weeks," he said. "I feel like I finally got over the little hump. The last game, I feel like it broke me in a little bit more. First it was the foot and then the knee, today was a great practice for me. I feel like I got back to myself a little bit. I feel like I'm getting in and out of my routes and having that full confidence back, so I think it will be a great week for me.
"(It's) the first time since the knee (injury that he felt this confident) because I broke the foot and then after the first game, then had that huge week the second week. Then the knee limited me since then, so I feel like my body is feeling good again. I feel like I can give it a great go."
*Tight end Travis Beckum practiced today for the first time this season. He has been on the reserve/physically unable to perform list after tearing his ACL in Super Bowl XLVI.
"I haven't played football in eight months, but it was good," Beckum said. "I did a lot of scout squad stuff, but did everything for the most part."
The Giants now have 21 days to activate Beckum, put him on injured reserve or release him.
"I hope to play as soon as I can," Beckum said. "Obviously, rehabbing is totally different than being in football shape and going out there playing with the guys. So I'm excited. I'm going to go out there and take it day by day.
"I think I'll be playing (soon). I've just got to get back to getting my timing down with Eli and the guys and hopefully go from there."
*The Redskins apparently still haven't gotten over losing to the Giants' and Manning's 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz. Today, Washington cornerback D'Angelo Hall said, of Manning, "He made the play to beat us, but I don't feel like he made that play. I feel we gave him that play. We just had one guy set his feet and one guy not do this. I could have thrown that ball and he would have scored. It wasn't something where he was a rocket scientist and he figured something out. We just played that as bad as possible."
Manning's response was as perfectly on-target as the pass to Cruz.
"I appreciate him giving it to me," Manning said. "Thank you. I didn't think it took a rocket scientist to figure it out, either. We had a guy running open, and you hit him."