EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The first full-squad practice of training camp proved that Giants fans have high expectations for Saquon Barkley.
Each time Barkley touched the ball early in practice, the enthusiastic crowd at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center chanted, “MVP, MVP.”
“That’s a first,” Barkley said. “I have never really heard that chant before. I’m just grateful for the fans who come out and show support. It’s just fun being out there and playing football again. Obviously, you get to interact with the fans and sign stuff for them, especially the little kids. The MVP chants, that’s cool and all, but I was just more happy to be out there with my teammates and kick the season off.”
Could Barkley win an MVP Award? Barkley is far more focused on helping the team win than he is in adding to his collection of individual awards. He did, however, capture a big one last season when he was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
“I think anything is possible,” he said. “I am a big believer in that, but my mindset is not just that trophy. Obviously, I am not going to sit here and say ‘I don’t want to win the MVP,’ or ‘I don’t want to win this or win that.’ But I am a big believer. I take care of the little things and focus on (the) team first. It’s a team-first mentality and all of the individual awards will take care of themselves.”
He certainly has the skills and production to be a most valuable player. In 2018, he led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage and set Giants rookie records with 1,307 yards, 91 receptions (tied with Odell Beckham, Jr.) and 15 touchdowns.
But history is not on his side. Quarterbacks have won the last six and 11 of the last 12 MVP awards. The lone exception was Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson in 2012. Runners Shaun Alexander of Seattle and LaDainian Tomlinson of San Diego won back-to-back MVP’s in 2005-06.
There was no award talk at Pat Shurmur’s morning news conference. But the coach was asked about Barkley’s leadership and consistency.
“I think he’s got a generational spirit, and it shows up on game days,” Shurmur said. “It shows up in the locker room. It shows up behind the scenes. He leads by example. But he’s also willing to say things that are important to him. I think as he becomes more veteran in this league, if he keeps the mindset, you know he’s a second-year player but come in with that rookie mindset of trying to learn and get better, then he’ll continue to have a great career.”
Right now, the Giants are just expecting another terrific season from their splendid back. Barkley will certainly carry another heavy load. Last year, he had 252 touches (261 rushing attempts and 91 catches).
Shurmur and Barkley, who were both frequently asked about the young back’s workload in 2018, were queried on the subject again today. And their responses came from the same script.
“We’ll see what it takes to win football games,” Shurmur said. “Certainly, we’ll want to try to do the best thing. I think we’ll all agree, it makes sense for him to touch the ball. As we go along, we also need to spread the ball around, whether we’re throwing it to him or handing it to him, subbing him (out) at times. We did sub him (out) last year at times, and we’ll continue to do that.
“We try to be smart with it and do everything we possibly can to win games. But player safety is important as well.”
Barkley has basically said that he will carry and catch the ball as much as is necessary to contribute to a Giants victory.
“I am open to as many that come,” he said. “Like I have said before, I am willing to take as many touches to help the team win. That’s why I train, that’s why I try to take care of my body, that’s why I take the mindset I take in the offseason, and that’s why I train with guys like (speed coach) Ryan Flaherty, that’s why (I’m) with the amazing strength staff here with (strength and conditioning) coach (Aaron) Wellman and all of those guys. I understand that and the wear and tear of football. That’s my job and that’s the sport that I chose to fall in love with. I know it comes with the territory, so I have to be better and be better as a person and take care of my body to be more of a professional in that area.”
That is an MVP mindset.
*The Giants quickly suffered their first injury of camp when post-practice X-rays revealed that starting wide receiver Sterling Shepard suffered a fractured left thumb. The fourth-year pro was injured when he reached to the ground to catch a low pass.
Shepard will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis.
Last year, Shepard started all 16 games and finished with career-high totals of 66 catches and 872 yards. He signed a contract extension in the offseason. At his news conference, Shurmur was asked if Shepard can be a No. 1 receiver.
“Sure, I think he can be,” Shurmur said. “Sterling is a football player, and we appreciate his toughness and his ability to make plays, and all the things he adds to the team. He’s a value-added guy in my mind. He plays his position, but he makes the people around him better. I think that’s what all the players should strive to do.”
*Safety Jabrill Peppers experienced cramps late in practice.
*Nate Solder and Mike Remmers began practice as the first-team left and right tackles, respectively. But both players are having their workloads managed because of offseason surgeries (Solder-ankle and Remmers-back), so Chad Wheeler and Brian Mihalik also got reps with the starters.
*Second-year linebacker Lorenzo Carter intercepted an Eli Manning pass and returned it for a touchdown.