EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – The Giants will have to get by for the foreseeable future without their top possession receiver, Steve Smith.
On Friday, Smith, one of the NFL’s best third-down receivers with 11 of his 47 catches coming in that situation, was officially ruled out of Sunday’s game vs. Dallas (1-7), with what coach Tom Coughlin described as a partially torn pectoral muscle.
Mario Manningham, sporting the Giants’ biggest per-catch average at 15.4 yards, will replace Smith at the split end. Second-year, big-play star Hakeem Nicks, the NFL’s top-scoring wide receiver with nine touchdowns, will remain at flanker.
Second-year player Ramses Barden and undrafted rookie Duke Calhoun will see time in the multiple-receiver sets.
Coughlin said Smith will be on a “week-to-week” status, but indicated he won’t plot a definitive timetable for his return until he begins rehabilitation. Coughlin said no surgery will be necessary.
“It’s a partial pec and he just has to rehab,” Coughlin said. “But whatever the basis of it is, he has to go through a process of healing, so I’m not sure exactly how long.”
The injury occurred during drills Thursday when Smith was reaching for a pass.
Moving Manningham into Smith’s spot could lead to more double-coverage for Nicks, an athletic and shifty weapon in the open field. But adjusting to defenses won’t be the only pressure the 2009 first-round draft choice will have felt this week. His alma mater, the University of North Carolina, is under NCAA investigation, and the school listed his name among five former Tar Heels who may have given some of the 13 currrent players under scrutiny $3,300 worth of “impermissible gifts of cash and jewelry and impermissible assistance” with transportation after the 2008 season.
“I’m not angry at all,” Nicks said, when asked his thoughts on North Carolina bringing his name into the investigation. “That’s college. I’m in the NFL now, and I’m focusing on football.”
The investigation also involves improper conduct from a tutor and improper relationships with agents. But the school has stated that Nicks is not suspected of having any “inappropriate relationships with agents, prospective agents, or runners.”
“I’ve got a game this week,” Nicks said as he shook his head to all further questions about the investigation, and proceeded to talk about the Cowboys, and Manningham’s upside for this weekend.
“We know he’s going to step up. We pretty much all know each other’s routes, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Manningham, third on the team with 25 catches for 385 yards and three touchdowns, said he looked forward to an increased role.
“I’ve just got to play football,” he said, “stick to what I do and don’t try to make the game harder than it is. The good thing is, we know Dallas and we know what they’re going to run.”
The Giants might be using that starting group for a while. At least two weeks, according to Coughlin.
“They say a limited amount of time, but not necessarily right away or this week or next week,” Coughlin said. “I won’t know until (Smith) starts rehabbing. He hasn’t had much swelling or discomfort, so a lot of it in the beginning will probably be preventative to make sure there’s no further injury, and then to strengthen and go forward.”
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