It’s been a long time since the New York Giants had a running back that could potentially strike fear into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators.
In fact, the last time one could make an argument that they had that kind of a weapon was in 2012, when Ahmad Bradshaw became the last Giants running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.
These days the Giants have another potential threat capable to eclipsing Bradshaw’s mark, that being Saquon Barkley, the team’s first-round draft pick. Since joining the Giants, Barkley has been the utmost professional, making good on his promise to keep his head down ad work his tail off to earn everything that might be coming his way.
That approach led to a productive showing by the rookie out of Penn state, who capped a strong day of practice with a touchdown.
“It went really well,” Barkley said after practice. “It was finally cool to be out there. Obviously, we had like walk through stuff before, but we actually got to practice against the defense today and I felt that I did really well, I feel like the offense is coming to me a lot quicker. But yeah, at the end of the day, it’s football and I had a lot of fun.”
Barkley’s fun has of course been mixed in with mastering all that he needs to know about carving out a long, productive NFL career. He’s already begun picking the brains of his teammates, most notably fellow running back Jonathan Stewart, who has somehow defied the odds when it comes to extending his shelf life despite the nature of his job description.
The rookie has also been leaning on quarterback Eli Manning a lot.
“He’s so knowledgeable about the game – he knows every single play where you’re supposed to be, where everybody is supposed to be and literally he can look this way and this guy ran a wrong route and he knows that guy already ran a wrong route, “Barkley said.
“I just continue to learn from him every single day and ask a lot of questions. I think I’m probably annoying to him a little bit, but I continue to ask him a lot of questions and I just want to expand on my knowledge of the game because that’s going to make me a better player and if I can continue to grow as a better player, then I can continue to help the team.”
Barkley’s skill set offers tremendous intrigue about how he might actually be able to help the offense. In addition to lining up in the backfield, he can also line up in several places as a receiver, including in the slot, where he received a few snaps while at Penn State.
That’s why route running is among the top things he’s trying to sharpen up ahead of the 2018 regular-season opener.
“When you look at the great backs in the NFL right now and you look at the (Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott) Zekes and the (Steelers RB) Le’Veons (Bell) and the (Saints RB) Alvin Kamaras and all of those guys – one thing that stands out to you is they all can run the ball, but the reason why they separate themselves from the rest of the pack is because they can catch the ball out of the backfield and they can do it on every single down,” Barkley said.
“I want to try to get myself on that level first. Obviously, I have to handle what I have to handle here and focus on the playbook and getting better every single day, but as that continues to come, I have to continue to work on my route running because if you have a running back that is able to run routes and is a threat out of the backfield, that is just another thing you have to cover.”
Barkley said one of the biggest things for him to get past in terms of improving as a receiver is to not think about the process.
“I think actually when you start to think about it is when you actually drop the ball. It’s with repetition and catching the ball every single day and using your eyes just comes naturally.
“In college there was one play against Michigan and I ran a wheel and I actually was thinking about it, I was overthinking because I saw the safety coming and I was thinking about trying to beat him and what I was going to try to do before and I took my eyes off of it and I dropped it.”
He has also turned to the Giants receivers, namely Odell Beckham Jr., for advice on certain receiving concepts that overlap between the two positions.
“Definitely Odell,” Barkley said. “I used to talk to him when I used to train with him actually and like, ‘How do you do this? How do you set that up?’ He used to just tell me, obviously it’s different routes from him being out wide and me being in the backfield and maybe hopefully sometimes lining up in the slot.
“It’s different, but you can apply that to your route running, you can apply it to how you set it up, how you bring it down, how you use your eyes, how you catch the ball. So, I definitely talk to Odell and I talk to vets in the running back room, and just continue to watch them and how they set it up.”
Despite his draft pedigree, Barkley knows he’s far from being a finished product. That he comes into Giants camp with a determination to sharpen every tool in his tool box certainly bodes well for a Giants rushing game that has struggled to be relevant.
(Top photo courtesy of Penn State Athletics via College Press Box)