Umenyiora hopeful to play against Dallas

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — After missing the past month, Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora is optimistic about his status for Sunday night’s critical game against Dallas. He’s also uncertain about it.

Umenyiora has missed the past four games with a high ankle sprain — the team won’t say which leg — but has practiced on a limited basis this week, including Wednesday. Coach Tom Coughlin said liked what he saw from Umenyiora.

“He did good. He did a little bit more, felt better, felt good, moved around well,” Coughlin said.

Is that enough for Umenyiora to get back on the field in the showdown for the NFC East title?

Everyone is noncommittal.

“You have to understand that you have to see what happens daily in terms of how he feels and where he’s at and that type of thing,” Coughlin added. “If he continues to progress, we’ll look forward to it. I’m saying that it will, but I’m not going to predict that.”

Nor would Umenyiora, who smiled and shrugged when asked a half-dozen times if he would suit up for the Giants (8-7) in the winner-take-all matchup with the Cowboys.

“I wouldn’t be out there if I am not myself,” he said. “They expect you to be the same guy no matter what.

“Of course, it’s a playoff game, so no question I want to be out there. I feel all right, it’s a high ankle sprain and those are hard to recover from. I feel like I have had enough time to let it heal and hopefully I will be able to play. But it is not my decision, it is going to be up to them.”

New York’s defense is built on a strong pass rush and, until the emergence this season of second-year DE Jason Pierre-Paul, Umenyiora was the team’s most dangerous sack threat. He has only seven sacks this season because of his injuries, which also included knee problems.

Should he be active for the first time since getting hurt in a loss at New Orleans, Umenyiora would add to a revitalized pass rush sparked by Pierre-Paul (15 1/2 sacks), a finally healthy Justin Tuck, linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, and backup end Dave Tollefson.

Umenyiora is impressed with the work his teammates have done in his absence.

“It is exciting and I am just happy and anxious to get out there,” he said. “I have watched my guys go out there and play outstanding football and hopefully, I can come and add to that.”

He doesn’t expect to carry his usual heavy load of plays, and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said that would be unfair of the Giants to demand. But whatever Umenyiora, a two-time Pro Bowler, can contribute would be a boost against the mobile Tony Romo.

“I’ve missed a lot of the (players) that we had from a year ago,” Fewell said, noting injuries and defections to the defense. “Tuck hasn’t been with us all year. There are a lot of our dynamics that were not present. That’s been a missing link for us and again, we’ve had to try to use interchangeable parts all year. We’re at the point right now that we’re glad to have Osi back and we have a chance to win a division title.”

That goal has energized Umenyiora more than anything. He’s had 67 sacks since joining the Giants in 2003 — he missed 2008 with a knee injury — and also played the run well for someone who is considered a pass rusher before all else. To think he will have to watch while the Giants chase a division title is maddening for him.

“I am anxious,” he said. “I miss my teammates. I miss being out there on the football field. Every time I am out there I enjoy myself and I love playing. I have missed it and I am anxious to get back out there whenever it is time.”

The Giants hope it is time now. Romo and the Cowboys probably don’t.

Notes: Also limited in practice was WR Mario Manningham (knee). Missing practice were TE Jake Ballard (knee), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), rookie LB Mark Herzlich (ankle) and WR Hakeem Nicks (hamstring). Nicks has no question about his availability: “I have no doubt in my mind that I am playing, I know that. It’s all or nothing.”

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.