Saquon Barkley is listed as a running back on the official Giants roster, a fact he’s been made all too aware of since New York took him with the second overall pick in last month’s NFL Draft. While many demanded for one of the polarizing quarterback prospects, others felt help on the line, on either side of the ball, was a vital need as well.
The Penn State alum, speaking on Friday afternoon to open the Giants’ rookie activities, ensured fans, however, he’s much more than that.
“(I’m) more than a running back. Completely more than a running back. That is why when people try and put the ‘why should a running back go that high?’ Obviously, you look at the past three years and the position of the running backs and what (Ezekiel Elliott) and (Le’Veon Bell) have been able to do, they are more than a running back,” Barkley said.
“I am a guy that is willing to do anything for his team. Whether it be a kick returner or a punt returner, running down on kickoffs, lining up in the slot, running a dummy play or a fake play, whatever it takes. I want to be an athlete, not just a running back. Obviously, I play the running back position but I want to be an all-around guy and an all-around player.”
Fulfilling each of those roles with the Nittany Lions, Barkley’s scores were vital to making Happy Valley happy. In his final two college seasons, Penn State went 21-3 when he scored at least one touchdown of any kind. Now fully entrenched in the New York culture, he’s committed to his new shade of blue, completely lost in his new playbook.
Barkley said the playbook is different from what he studied at Penn State, but assured Giants fans he’s a quick learner, later explaining that the biggest different is the terminology.
“I had the playbook before and was looking over it and it is hard to learn there. It is easier to learn when (running backs coach Craig Johnson) is in front and he is telling you this and this,” he said. “This is why we do this and this is why we do that. It starts to come to you quicker. The best way to learn is actually doing it on the field.”
Despite his professional adjustments, Barkley is already doing his part to become a leader. As practice came to an end on Friday, reporters noted that Barkley stayed behind with one of the tryout quarterbacks, fellow Big Ten alum John O’Korn of Michigan.
“When I say leader, you have to start off by leading by example. Try and be one of the first ones in and one of the last ones out. Try and take care of my body. Try and do all the things on the football field. Run in every spot,” Barkley said.
“When you have to be vocal, obviously it is hard to be vocal because we are all learning and our minds are boggling right now. Whether it is a break down or you are learning something a lot faster than someone else and you try and help them in that area or someone is learning faster than you and you ask them.”
Speaking of the “Giant way”, head coach Pat Shurmur declared that Barkley has what it takes to fulfill that mythos.
“He’ll tell you he wants to learn what he’s doing and compete at a high level and regardless of what my expectations are for him, he has to come out here and train and do it,” Shurmur said. “That’s what’s really cool about him is that he has that mindset and so I’m thrilled with the players that we’ve brought in the building, I’m thrilled with the way that our guys have been performing.”
Above all, Barkley isn’t going to let himself become complacent with his status in 2018’s top two. Despite his countless college accomplishments, he made he came into this weekend with something prove.
“Everyone will have struggles, but I am willing to learn and I am coachable,” Barkley said. “(I’m) going to try and lead at a young age and start working with the young guys, the rookies. Just try and continue to have fun and play the game I love.”
Once the team fully convenes, Barkley will have a plethora of talent to keep him on the right path. He hasn’t met with incoming veteran Jonathan Stewart, but he’s certainly relishing the opportunity to do so.
“I look forward to meeting those guys and picking their brain. I look forward to meeting guys that have won championships and guys that have gone through struggles, ups and downs,” Barkley said. “Guys who are veterans in the NFL and great pros. I just look forward to continue to learn from them and follow them by example, learn, continue to grow and help myself develop as a player.”
In due time, Barkley is looking to join those guys, and it’s obvious that the new management sees him doing so sooner rather than later. General manager Dave Gettleman has spoke often about using the second overall pick on a “gold jacket guy”, referring to the outerwear gifted to Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees.
If confidence was the lone requirement, Barkley would already be there.
“You want to get a gold jacket and work yourself and your butt off to get a gold jacket. Touched by God, (Gettleman) talked to us yesterday and said that everyone in the room is touched by God. You are, it is true,” he said.
“You have the talent. You are blessed to be in the NFL and to be able to play in the NFL. Not many people are able to accomplish that and have that talent to do that. It is a great compliment and I am so happy that I have a guy that believes in me and in my talent.”