The Saquon smile is back.
Still young, Saquon Barkley looks healthy, sounds happy and says he feels so much better now than he did a year ago. The running back admits he’s full of energy to play a central role in the new offensive system, a system that Saquon Barkley should reinvent and restore him to the multi-faceted weapon that the Giants and their fans saw in 2018, but haven’t seen since done.
No downcast looks or glassy eyes. Not that day. Not on Wednesday, after the Giants completed their second practice session of their mandatory mini-camp. The sun was shining and Barkley was beaming.
“I’m very excited,” Barkley said. “I think this offense will put playmakers in a position to make games. Whether it’s post-snap, pre-snap to give us looks and put our talent to work.
“I feel like we have something special here.”
Barkley said that before. The last two years have not been good for him and he has not been able to overcome all the physical adversity, mental anguish and lack of team success. He bowed to the demands of human nature, sometimes appearing grumpy or dejected or just plain tired from it all.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s tough,” said safety Julian Love, Barkley’s teammate for the past three years. “This is a guy who’s the most competitive person I’ve ever been with and it’s tough when he gets beat up here or there. It’s tough for him, it’s tough for us.
“As a friend, I’m just looking forward to him seeing what he can do.”
What Barkley can do once his past knee and ankle problems are indeed behind him is pretty much all for the new offense, designed by head coach Brian Daboll and orchestrated by coordinator Mike Kafka.
During the organized team activity drills, one had to constantly be on the lookout for where No. 26 in blue was at every game, and this creativity was also shown during the mini camp. Barkley naturally positions himself in the backfield. But it was also seen as a slot receiver and further out as an outside receiver. There are plays where he starts in one place and moves clearly across the formation. Now you see him here, now you don’t see him there.
“I feel like whenever I can get the ball into space, I feel like that’s where I’m best,” Barkley said.
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“I think it’s helpful, not only for myself, but also to open up other things on offense,” he said. “I haven’t really moved that much since college, so I went back and looked at a little bit of my college stuff to see things I could do and cross over there and bring it here.”
What he saw in those Penn State Highlights was a different version of himself.
“I would say the difference was that I was a much more confident player in college and early in my career than I was before last year and then last year,” Barkley said. “Now I’m starting to get that back, starting to get that pride back.”
Barkley’s pass-catching ability was a big part of his NFL initiation as he won the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award after the 2018 season. In addition to his 1,307 rushing yards, perhaps more impressive were his 91 receptions for 721 yards and four touchdowns. This was Barkley at its most versatile and effective. Injuries and bad offensive systems were his undoing.
The new offensive approach should unleash whatever is in the Barkley tank. Daboll wants to spread the field and create discord with movement and deploy his staff in advantageous places. Daboll’s former team, the Bills, haven’t thrown the ball too often at their running backs — Devin Singletary led the way out of the backfield in 2021 with just 40 receptions — but Daniel Jones will target Barkley, and the ball figures to find him.
“I think every year every team is a little bit different, every player is unique,” said Daboll. “I think Saquon is a unique guy.
“He has good hands, he’s a good distance runner, a good runner. Try to use it as best you can.”
The Giants have secured Barkley’s fifth-year option and he will play for $7.2 million this season. What happens after that depends on several factors. If Barkley, 25, stays healthy – something he hasn’t done in any of the last three seasons – the Giants would like to have evidence supporting him.