EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Several high-profile players have departed the Giants this offseason, but those that remain and the newcomers that joined them are confident they will have a successful 2019 season.
"This team, I'm excited," Saquon Barkley said today. "I think we have a lot of potential. We have added some new faces and we were able to sign some guys and lock them in, like Shep (wide receiver Sterling Shepard). Just been training with these guys and competing (in the offseason program, which began on Monday). I was not here for this part last year, I was in the draft process, so to be here, working out and running, I am really happy with what we've got and I am excited for the future."
The four offensive holdovers who spoke to the media this week – Eli Manning, Evan Engram, Shepard and Barkley – had similar exchanges with reporters. They were each asked for their reaction to the trade last month that sent Odell Beckham, Jr. to the Cleveland Browns. And they expressed optimism that the Giants will improve this season, despite the star receiver's departure, and those of safety Landon Collins and linebacker Olivier Vernon.
"I think Odell is a one-of-a-kind talent, I think he's the best receiver in the league, hands down, but we got guys ready to step up," said Engram, the tight end selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. "We got guys ready that are here now that are going to come in here and make this team better. The message to the locker room is for guys to prepare and get ready for the big opportunities that are going to come with him gone."
Two wide receivers who will certainly get their share of chances are Shepard and Golden Tate, the 10-year veteran signed as a free agent last month. Both wideouts can be productive lining up outside or in the slot.
"I'm excited, I'm going to have an opportunity to line up in a bunch of places," said Tate, who has 611 career regular-season catches. "Just looking at the Giants over the past years, we have some incredible guys in our meeting room who can be moved outside, inside, at tight end, whatever it may be. When I got into the league, and specifically when I got to Detroit (in his fifth season in 2014), in two-receiver sets, I was the 'Z.' and in three-receiver sets, I was 'X,' I was all over the place, which required me to learn it all, and have high endurance, and hopefully have the opportunity to just be moved around. I'm going to trust that coach (Pat Shurmur) is going to put all of us in the best situation to win ball games, and also to allow us to be the best individuals that we can be. We'll see what happens."
Shepard, who signed a four-year contract extension last week, had 66 receptions last season, top among the returning wideouts.
"I think the big thing that Shep brings to this team is a dog mentality, and that mentality that we hate to lose," Engram said. "That's Shep on and off the field. Seeing him get that contract and re-signing with us and him finding that security, I was very happy for him. That sends a message to our locker room that we need more guys like that. We need more guys with that mentality, that work ethic, and the ability to do whatever we need and whatever we can on the football field to win, and that's Sterling Shepard."
Of course, one reason for the enthusiasm inside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center is the presence of Barkley and the seemingly limitless possibilities he delivers at running back. Last year, he was selected as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for 1,307 yards, catching 91 passes and scoring 15 touchdowns. Those numbers suggest if Barkley is not the league's best running back, he is on the cusp. And to him receiving that plaudit would mean … nothing.
"Obviously, my competitive nature would love to be the best player in the league and the best running back in the league," Barkley said. "But I think you could make an argument that I was one of the best running backs in the league last year and we went 5-11 to account for it. My mindset is whatever it takes to take this team to another level and compete for a championship, whether that is 2,000 yards, 1,500 yards or 800 yards."
Despite his fabulous rookie season, Barkley is aware some outsiders believe the Giants should have selected a quarterback with the No. 2 overall selection in last year's draft instead of him. He could not care less.
"I don't care for their opinions or anything, I can't change those opinions," Barkley said. "Not being cocky or anything, but if a Rookie of the Year doesn't sway that mindset, then I don't know what will. My mindset is to continue to prove to the people in this locker room and in this building that they got the right guy. Not only the right guy because I can break off an 80-yard touchdown, because there are a lot of people in the league that can do that. But as a guy that can buy in and take that leadership role, I believe that I have been able to show that so far and I have been able to take that to a whole different level."
This year, he intends to take the team with him and prove the Giants can be a better team than the club that won five games last year.
"I think we can," he said. "That is the team we have right now. That is our team right now and we have to believe in each other. We have to believe in the coaches that we have, the system, and continue to compete against each other right now because we cannot play anyone else. When the season comes around, take it to another level."