Osi Umenyiora hopeful to play Sunday

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Osi Umenyiora practiced for the second straight day and appears to be on track to return on Sunday night, when the New York Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys, barring an unforeseen setback to his ankle injury.

And Umenyiora said that if he does play in the most important game of the season, he has no problem coming off the bench and rotating in for Jason Pierre-Paul.

"He deserves to be the starter, there is no question about it," Umenyiora said. "The guy is playing as high a level as I've seen a defensive end play in a long time. And I have been here a while. So he deserves to be the starter. Whatever this team needs for me to do, whether it is come in and spot him or rush, whatever they need me to do, I will go out there and do."

Umenyiora has missed the last four games with a high ankle sprain he suffered against New Orleans. The defensive end said he did a lot more in practice on Thursday than he did on Wednesday and will have to see how his ankle responds. He was listed as limited in both practices.

"Osi looks good," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "Anytime 72 walks out onto the field for us, he looks good, no matter if we give him 10 reps, 20 reps or 30 reps, he looks good to me."

Umenyiora said it will be coach Tom Coughlin's call whether he suits up on Sunday night.

"It is a playoff game," Umenyiora said. "There is no question that I want to be out there and I would play if it is my decision but it is going to be up to them."

"We will just wait and see," he added. "Everything is going to be up to Coach Coughlin, it is going to be all his decision. If they need me to play, if they want me to play, I feel I like I might be able to. We will just wait and see."

Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said Umenyiora looked as fast as ever on Wednesday. And defensive end Dave Tollefson also said Umenyiora looked good moving around.

"I feel alright," Umenyiora said. "It was a high ankle sprain, those are pretty tough to recover from. I feel like I've had sufficient time to let it heal and hopefully I will be able to play."

"Everybody who's had the same type of high ankle sprain that I've had has told me four to six weeks recovery time," Umenyiora added. "I've seen other guys who've had the same injury try to come back, like a Sam Bradford and Ben Roethlisberger, they just seem like they were just completely off. I was a little concerned about that but after last week or whatever, things started to improve a little bit. Hopefully everything will work out for me Sunday."

Umenyiora was not able to get any push off his first step when testing his ankle in recent weeks. Now Umenyiora is getting closer to regaining his full speed.

"My whole thing is my first step and my explosion," he said. "I have to have that. In the past couple of weeks I haven't had it but it seems to be coming around now."

In Umenyiora's absence, Pierre-Paul has blossomed into a Pro Bowler. The second-year defensive end, who was just named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad, has 29 tackles and five sacks in the last three games.

Against Dallas three weeks ago, he had two sacks, a safety, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal.

Fewell would not reveal how he plans to use Justin Tuck, Pierre-Paul and Umenyiora if he has all three on Sunday night. But the defensive coordinator made it clear that Pierre-Paul will see plenty of action even if Umenyiora is back.

"JPP will play, I am not worried about how many plays he will play this week," Fewell said. "We will keep him on the field one way or the other."

Umenyiora had a rocky start to the season after holding out for a new contract, which he never got. He had his knee scoped after a few practices in camp and missed the first three games of the season. He returned and had four sacks and two forced fumbles in his first two games back. Umenyiora had a total of seven sacks in eight games before suffering his ankle injury on Nov. 28 at New Orleans.

"The first three games I missed with the knee scope, then I came in and felt I was playing some of the best football of my career," Umenyiora said. "But can't control somebody falling on your ankle. I missed the last couple of games but this has been a fun time. I have had a great time with my teammates, I love this coaching staff and I am just happy to still be here."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com.