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 EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Injuries and normal substitutions have often made it difficult to keep track of who is lining up at running back on any given play for the New York Giants - both for fans and offensive linemen.
``A lot of times when you're in game mode, you're not really seeing which back is back there,'' tackle David Diehl said Wednesday. ``You're just focusing on the defense. To be honest, sometimes I don't think we could really tell you who's running the ball at certain times. We're just doing our job.''
The Giants have done an admirable job running the ball in the post-Tiki Barber era, particularly in light of injuries to opening day starter Brandon Jacobs and leading rusher Derrick Ward.
Together, the two have missed nine games with various bumps and bruises, and Ward was placed on injured reserve this week after suffering a broken leg against Chicago last Sunday.
Jacobs is scheduled to return Sunday against Philadelphia after missing two games with a hamstring injury, but has been limited in practice. On Wednesday, he sounded less than eager to risk coming back too early.
In addition to saying he ``felt very good'' about his chances of playing, Jacobs sounded a cautionary note.
``I'm not going to push myself as much as I can because it's a hamstring and you never know with those,'' he said. ``I'm going to take care of it the way I need to. You come back too soon and you could hurt it more and be out for the next four weeks. I'm just going to take my time and do as much as I can do.''
Veteran Reuben Droughns would likely start if Jacobs can't go. Droughns has been the Giants' short-yardage and goal-line back this season and is second on the team with six touchdowns.
Rookie Ahmad Bradshaw has seen limited time at running back but has averaged 24 yards per kickoff return and could see his backfield role expanded.
The Giants had to fill a huge hole when all-time leading rusher Barber retired after last season. Yet even with the injuries to Ward and Jacobs, New York has rushed for 1,530 yards through 12 games, sixth-best in the NFL.
On the two fourth-quarter drives that were the difference in Sunday's 21-16 win at Chicago, Droughns and Ward ran a combined 11 times for 40 yards and helped take more than eight minutes off the clock.
``It doesn't matter to us who's back there,'' Diehl said. ``It's our responsibility to go out there and keep opening holes for those guys. We know that whoever's back there, if we give them the opportunity they're going to make the most of it. They've done that this entire season.''
One trend that weighs against the Giants is this: In the one game both Jacobs and Ward missed, on Nov. 25 against Minnesota, the Giants managed just 75 yards rushing, their second-lowest total of the season.
While Jacobs was limited in practice Wednesday, the absence of several other players was potentially more troubling.
Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce sat out with an ankle injury, safety Gibril Wilson remained hobbled by a sprained knee and safety James Butler sat with a hamstring injury.
Coach Tom Coughlin said Wilson ``will take some time'' to get back in the lineup, and that veteran R.W. McQuarters could take his place. Chase Blackburn has worked at middle linebacker and could start there if Pierce is unable to play.
On a positive injury note, rookie wide receiver Steve Smith said he finally may be ready to see his first action since suffering a shoulder injury in the second game of the season against Green Bay. He subsequently injured his hamstring.
``I feel way better,'' Smith said. ``This season has been a roller coaster for me. I feel I could be out there if they need me.''

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