EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – Adrian Awasom spent the first seven weeks of the season on New York’s practice squad studying videotapes of opposing defensive linemen and mimicking their moves for Giants blockers.

Now the Chicago Bears’ offensive line will be blocking Awasom. In prime time.

Awasom’s was activated two weeks ago after injuries to All-Pro Osi Umenyiora (hip flexor) and Justin Tuck (foot) created a lack of depth at defensive end for the Giants. Michael Strahan’s sprained right foot forced the free agent from North Texas into the lineup- he played 21/2 quarters against the Texans last week. He’ll play again Sunday when the Giants (6-2) host the Chicago Bears (7-1) in a nationally televised game for first place in the NFC, although it’s not clear if he will start.

“It’s a big adjustment and it’s going to be a big stage,” said Awasom, who had two tackles last week. “You have to take advantage of opportunity when given.”

He’s not the only one – New York could go into the game with seven backups in the starting lineup.

Strahan and receiver Amani Toomer, who sustained a season-ending knee injury Sunday, won’t play. Umenyiora has missed the last two games and is doubtful. Receiver Plaxico Burress is questionable with back spasms, along with outside linebackers Carlos Emmons (groin) and Brandon Short (quad) and cornerback Sam Madison (hamstring).

Of that group, Burress, who missed last week’s game, and Madison, who missed the last two, are the most likely to play.

“I think I would like to find the sniper that is hidden somewhere in this place,” running back Tiki Barber said Thursday. “I’m concerned a little bit, but you have to keep confident in the guys who are going to be playing.”

They are young and haven’t been in this situation before, but if you doubt them, it’s a disservice to everybody.”

The Giants have overcome injuries the past three weeks in extending their winning streak to five games.

Linebacker LaVar Arrington was lost three weeks ago against Dallas with a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury. First Reggie Torbor and then Emmons stepped in and played well.

For the past two weeks, first-round draft pick Mathias Kiwanuka and veteran cornerback R.W. McQuarters have been starting for Umenyiora and Madison. Kiwanuka has a sack in each game, justifying the team’s decision to take him in the first round despite having two Pro Bowl starters at DE.

Others have also been doing the job.

Third-round draft pick Gerris Wilkinson started for Short last week and forced a fourth-quarter fumble in Giants territory, ending the Texans’ final drive.

Coach Tom Coughlin could start Awasom for Strahan against the Bears. But he also could move tackle Fred Robbins to end and start William Joseph at tackle.

Either Tim Carter or Pro Bowl special teamer David Tyree will replace Toomer, the Giants’ all-time leading receiver, while free agent Michael Jennings will get more playing time.

If Emmons can’t go, Torbor will get the start.

Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, the leader of the defense, isn’t worried about a unit that has given up 52 points during the team’s five-game winning streak and just 16 points in its last three home games..

“Maybe it’s not Michael Strahan or Osi or LaVar, but we will have 11 guys out there and that’s who we have to play with,” Pierce said. “We expect our guys to play. We might not get a Hall of Fame performance, but if we get all-out effort, that’s that we need.”

Awasom guarantees that.

“I am very confident in my abilities,” he said. “I never doubted my abilities. I know what kind of player I am. I don’t know if anyone is worried out there. I really don’t think about how people think of me.”

While the offense is missing fewer players, quarterback Eli Manning would be in a difficult position against the Bears’ defense if Burress’ back acts up and leaves New York without both regular receivers.

Carter, in his fifth season, has five career starts; Tyree, in his fourth year, has four.

“You can’t play any differently. You can’t think any differently,” Manning said. “You have to go through your reads. It’s just a matter of some of these guys getting open.”

For the Giants, the job is just to survive for a few more weeks.

“The injuries are at an epidemic level right now,” said punter Jeff Feagles, now in his 19th season. “Hopefully, we can get some guys back quickly. Any team I have ever been on, guys who aren’t playing are expected to step up. That’s what they get paid to do.”

AP-ES-11-09-06 1543EST



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