EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giant Dave Meggett always knew he could make it in the NFL, 5-foot-7 frame and all. When Meggett lined up in New York's third-down offense against Philadelphia last December, his beliefs were confirmed.

Meggett caught two passes for only 19 yards in a 24-17 loss that day, but the reason behind his unusually low output was encouraging. Instead of being matched against a big outside linebacker, as he had been all during his rookie season, the Eagles put two safeties on him.

"It was like, 'Wow, if these teams are changing their defenses because of me, then I must be having some kind of impact,' " he said.

About as big an impact as a 180-pound midround draft pick from a Division I-AA school (Towson State) could ever hope to have.

Meggett, taken in the fifth round last year, turned out to be the season's most surprising newcomer. A high-powered threat disguised in a double-A battery casing, he sparked the Giants on special teams and offense. He also made the Pro Bowl.

"And to think, on draft day I was arguing against him," Coach Bill Parcells said. "That shows you how smart I am."

Meggett proved his worth last season when he had 1,807 all-purpose yards and produced five touchdowns. He caught 34 passes (only Odessa Turner caught more, 38) for 531 yards and four touchdowns and he broke the team's 38-year-old record for punt-return yardage.

But the success has also bred unhappiness. Meggett, scheduled to make $90,000 this season (the final year of a two-year contract), was AWOL from practice Wednesday. Both Meggett and agent Tony Agnone maintained he had a virus, but it could have been a message to management. Last season, Meggett earned $205,000 because of signing bonuses and incentives.

It is known Meggett is unhappy with his salary and his decreased playing time. He has caught only two passes for 12 yards and has not rushed yet in two games. Last year he carried 28 times for 117 yards.

Meggett returned Thursday, $1,500 lighter in fines.

"Meggett will always be a certain type of player in this league," Parcells said. "He will not ever be a starter. If I said he was a starting tailback Sunday and I gave him the ball 28 times, he would be in county emergency Monday morning."

Parcells balked when the scouts pitched the Division I-AA player of the year because "I already had one 5-7 guy {recently waived running back Joe Morris}, why did I need another?"

Parcells soon found out.