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 EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Jared Lorenzen and Derrick Ward have run plenty of plays together for the New York Giants during the last few years.
Trouble is, most of them have come in the preseason or during practice with the scout team. Both players will be on a much larger stage Sunday when New York plays its home opener against Green Bay.
Ward will start at running back in place of injured Brandon Jacobs, while Lorenzen could start if Eli Manning's right shoulder has not healed sufficiently to allow the fourth-year pro to suit up and play.
``Could'' has been the operative word around the Giants this week. Lorenzen continued to take snaps with the first team Thursday, as he has all week, while Manning threw on the sidelines and didn't take any snaps.
Afterward, Manning said his shoulder felt better than it did Tuesday or Wednesday, but said he would have to wait until the weekend to make his decision.
``I'm improving, but I still have some work to do,'' he said. ``I know my body better than anybody. We'll just make a decision in the next couple of days. Hopefully, I can keep improving and get better. If I feel I can make all of the throws and help out this team and put us in a situation to win, then I will play.''
Manning sprained his shoulder in Sunday night's 45-35 loss at Dallas when he was hit by linebacker Anthony Spencer on a failed two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter. Jacobs sprained his right knee in the first half and is considered week-to-week.
Manning said Thursday he was mystified by initial media reports that he would be out a month.
``I was surprised when I heard that, because I knew it wasn't going to be that long,'' he said.
While Lorenzen only ran four plays after Manning left the game - one completion, two incomplete passes and a 2-yard run - Ward was impressive with 89 yards on 13 carries and four catches for 27 yards.
He entered the season having carried the ball a total of 35 times in three seasons with the Giants, who have used him more as a kick returner - he averaged 27.3 yards on 16 returns in 2004, and ran one kick back for a 92-yard touchdown.
For the rest of the time, Ward has been the personification of the loyal soldier, never reaching the top of the depth chart but willingly playing the role of the opposing team's running back each week with the Giants' scout team, often with Lorenzen under center.
``Me and Jared have been together for three years, so I pretty much know his style and the way he plays,'' Ward said. ``It'll be pretty easy going into a game with him.''
Lorenzen is in his third year with the Giants, but had never thrown a regular-season pass until last Sunday. He said this week he has gradually become more comfortable with his new role and with looking up in the huddle and seeing Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress staring back at him.
``I just need to sit down and watch more film, start spitting it out and understanding it, watching more film of the Packers and what they do,'' he said. ``But the confidence is coming. There were definitely a lot more plays I was confident with today than yesterday.''
Lorenzen was quick to add that he still thinks Manning will play, though it was hard to tell whether his assessment was grounded in fact or was the product of wishful thinking.
``This is his deal,'' Lorenzen said. ``He's one of the toughest kids I know. If he can do it, he's going to go.''
A loss Sunday could drop the Giants two games off the pace in the NFC East if Washington or Dallas wins, and would be New York's first 0-2 start to a season since 1996, Dan Reeves' last season as coach.

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