FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Joe Judge said it is "absolutely necessary" for Saquon Barkley to experience some form of live action before he plays in a regular-season game. But when will he get it?
The Giants' star running back missed the first joint practice with the New England Patriots here for personal reasons. When he returns Thursday, Barkley will wear the same red jersey as the quarterbacks, meaning contact is off limits.
He could conceivably play in the preseason finale Sunday evening against the Patriots, but Judge has not committed to that. The coach, however, is insistent Barkley's surgically repaired right knee must be tested before the Giants line up against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 12.
"I think every player has to have physical contact and experience the hits they're going to take in a game before it becomes live, full speed in the regular season," Judge said. "The reality is, the speed of the game increases from preseason to regular season to postseason. That's just what happens. For us to put a player on the field without preparing him either through practice or preseason games without contact, we're putting that player in danger and at a disservice.
"I know a lot of people want to put their head in a box and pretend it doesn't exist, doesn't happen. The reality is when you go out there in Denver, Washington, Atlanta (the Giants' first three opponents), that's live bullets now. They're flying around. They're trying to hit our players as hard as they can, as we are to them, make good form tackles and end a play. So, the best thing you can do for your players is prepare them for what they're going to see by putting them in controlled situations, experience the technique, let your body get used to the contact as close and collisions that are going to happen in a game, and then build on that as it goes to more 11-on-11 situations."
Could it be a one-shot deal, or must Barkley first absorb more consistent contact?
"I don't have a number of hits (he should take) to go back to your original question," Judge said. "In terms of is it necessary? I would absolutely say that contact of some form is absolutely necessary. Now, we'll decide what kind of contact it is and what kind of controlled drill we're going to put him in before putting him in 11-on-11 and what we allow him to do. But before we put him out there in live contact and just say, 'Godspeed', we're going to make sure this guy's prepared, because my number one priority is his health. Before anything else, it's the health of the player before we get on to anything else."
Barkley passed his physical and returned to practice last week, but the Giants have judiciously monitored his workload. When the Giants practiced last week in Cleveland, Barkley was kept out of any drills that also involved the Browns. He was largely limited to individual work. Judge, who continually uses the phrase "ramping up" when discussing players returning from injuries, will not simply decree how many live snaps Barkley will take.
"I'm relying a lot on the medical team right here," he said. "We've had lengthy meetings. We sat down the other day and talked for about an hour, specifically on Saquon and the plan for this week and then going forward. Obviously, we're all looking in terms of what does the short-term picture look like in terms of the start of the season. What's the long-term picture look like based on if we rush him back or if we take our time and where he's at right now? So, we'll put him in the red jersey.
"The most important part is for him to get out here and get football movement, reaction on movement against an opponent. He hasn't seen seven-on-seven, yet. He hasn't seen 11-on-11, yet. These things we have to build up with him. We've talked with the other coaching staff as they have with us about their players. We're going to work together on this and make sure that both teams can operate to make progress this week and improve and be safe at the same time."
View photos of the Giants practicing with the Patriots in New England ahead of Sunday's preseason finale.
*Judge said Barkley's absence was not health – including COVID – related.
"This is something personal," Judge said. "It has nothing to do with football. It was something he communicated with me last week. There's certain instances that I'll always work with a player on. I'll let him speak for himself in terms of what it is. I'm not going to go ahead and air his business. I'm not going to go ahead and speak on behalf of Saquon about his business. I'll let him address it if he feels like it, but he'll join us tonight in the hotel and be with us on the field tomorrow."
*Wide receiver Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney continued to work with the team's athletic trainers and did not participate in team drills.
"We'll see where they are for tomorrow," Judge said. "They're more day by day at this point."
*Tackle Nate Solder continues to be limited but did take a few reps at left tackle in one team period.
"He'll definitely be continuing to do the individual with the group," Judge said prior to practice. "He'll do a little bit against the Patriots in some team drills. Really, it's going to be kind of based on ramping him back up from missing some time right now."
*Judge began his news conference today by offering his support to Tom Coughlin. The Giants' two-time Super Bowl-winning coach announced publicly that his wife Judy is suffering from progressive supranuclear palsy, which, Coughlin wrote in a New York Times column, "is a brain disorder that erodes an individual's ability to walk, speak, think and control body movements."
"I'd like to start off obviously by offering our thoughts and prayers to coach Coughlin and his wife, Judy," Judge said. "It's something that, there's a number of people who knew at an earlier pace. It's obviously not our job to speak for anybody else. Look, what coach Coughlin has done for the organization, for his players, obviously speaks volumes. You know he's even taken it further with those dearest to him and his wife, so anything we can do to support the family, as he's supported the organization, we always will. I'll say that. Then, obviously, coach Coughlin has been great for me personally, so anything he ever needs from me, I'll be here for him."
*After a hard practice of more than two hours in intense heat, Judge – who was a New England assistant coach for eight years – took the Giants to a far corner of the Patriots practice area and had them run up Bill Belichick's infamous hill. Running up the steep incline is a daunting challenge for even the best-conditioned players.
"It's a different way to condition, but it was good," said quarterback Daniel Jones, who also claimed, "it was a lot of fun."
"Different, it's different," tight end Evan Engram said. "I had a hill in pee wee days that we used to run after practice, so that was going down memory lane a little bit. But it was good work."
*The Giants' defensive linemen and their counterparts on the Patriots' offense got into a brief scuffle during practice. Both groups had to run a lap around the field.
*Jones said the Giants' offense was "kind of up and down. Made some plays, didn't do some things great. We've got to look at a few things and clean it up. That's the way practice is sometimes, and you've got to be able to push through. We'll look to correct it going forward."
*In addition to Golladay and Toney, wide receiver John Ross and rookie linebacker Elerson Smith continue to work on the side with the athletic trainers.