EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Growing up in Charlotte, N.C., Hakeem Nicks was a tried and true Carolina Panthers supporter.
On Thursday night, he'll line up against them.
"I was a big Steve Smith fan," said Nicks, a co-leading receiver of the New York Giants, and an eager veteran itching to meet Carolina and its veteran wideout for the first time as a professional this week. "I liked the Panthers. I liked Steve Smith's heart. He plays with a lot of heart and he's a great athlete. I hoped to be like him."
Well, he's on his way.
In two games, Nicks has combined with running mate Victor Cruz on 31 catches as the Super Bowl champions have posted a 1-1 start. Nicks has 237 yards receiving and a touchdown, the kind of start that would make Smith — who in 2005 led the league in receptions (103), yards (1,563) and touchdowns (12) — proud.
"It's really big for me," Nicks said. "I'm really looking forward to it. I have a lot of family and friends that are going to be there."
When asked how many tickets he had to purchase, Nicks' reply was simple.
"It's my first time going back home," Nicks said. "We had a preseason game there last year, but I didn't get on the field much. This is for real. It was always a dream to be able to play there. So I circled this on the calendar a long time ago."
Nicks has been battling a foot injury — suffered during the offseason — that required surgery. He did not practice or play much during preseason.
On Sunday, in the 41-34 win over Tampa Bay, the fourth-year receiver out of North Carolina had 10 receptions for 199 yards and a touchdown. Nicks has 14 receptions in the first two games. Nicks said that he felt fine after the big game, even though his injured foot was stepped on twice. He came up limping each time.
"The game made the foot feel better," Nicks said. "It was definitely better than ice."
Nicks did not practice Tuesday, the team's lone full practice day before facing the Panthers (1-1). He spent some of the practice time on a stationary bike.
"I feel all right," Nicks said. "I'm taking it day-by-day. I got some treatment, worked on my cardio, then hit the weight room. I can't let not practicing frustrate me. I just have to have the mentality to get better. It's getting better. It's all about maintaining my body and then getting ready to play come game time."
Last week, the Giants said that they were going to be cautious with Nicks, allowing him to practice just once a week until the foot fully heals. But with the short week of preparation, Nicks was kept off the practice field to give him time to get ready for the Panthers. Nicks was asked if teams might be going after his injured right foot on purpose. Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron stepped directly on the foot late in Sunday's win.
"I don't even think about that," he said. "I think it's just ironic that I got stepped on. There's nothing to it. It's just playing football. I just want to make sure I can get ready for this game. It's going to be a dog fight and a battle and I'm looking forward to it."
Giants coach Tom Coughlin knows that his team is a little banged up, especially at wide receiver with Nicks and Domenik Hixon on the injury list, and also at cornerback, where Prince Amukamara and Michael Coe are hobbling.
"It's been an issue all year," Coughlin said. "I can't control that issue. I don't know if it's different than any other team. People get nicked up. It's part of the game."
Amukamara practiced fully on Tuesday, but didn't know if he would get the start. Rookie Jayron Hosley seemed to get most of the work with the first unit.
"All I can do is respond when they ask how I feel," said Amukamara, who has not played yet this season. "I think having Saturday and Sunday off helped with the rest. I'm very optimistic I can play. I hope this is the week. I'm going to prepare like I'm going to play. The team has my best interest in mind."
NOTES: T David Diehl (knee), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) and Hixon (concussion), along with Nicks, did not practice. There were no further updates on the severity of the injuries. Hixon will likely miss Thursday's game due to the new rules regarding concussions. ... DE Adewale Ojomo (hamstring) and LB Keith Rivers (hamstring) worked out with their positional coaches. ... The Giants defeated Philadelphia, 29-16, in Week 3 last season.
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