EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley is taking it day by day, but he won't say if he will be in uniform on the day the Giants most need him, on Sunday. But the Pro Bowl running back is confident he could play a full game if needed when the Giants host the Arizona Cardinals.
Barkley has missed the last 3½ games since spraining his ankle at Tampa Bay on Sept. 22. Although he practiced fully for the second day in a row today, neither Barkley nor coach Pat Shurmur would say if the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year will be in uniform on game day.
Barkley sidestepped the issue by saying seven times in a nine-minute meeting with reporters that his status is "day by day." As in, "I feel pretty good. Taking it day by day." And, "I'm just going to continue to take it day by day and trust my teammates, trust the process, trust the trainers, and like I said, continue to take it day by day." Plus, "With this injury, obviously day by day and week by week, you continue to get better and better."
Barkley has improved so much, he is certain his ankle can withstand the rigors of playing four quarters, if necessary.
"No doubt in my mind," he said. "I know that, obviously, even if I want to be out there as much as I can, it's ultimately really not up to me. It's going to be up to the team doctors and the trainers and coaches. I know that I feel confident enough that whatever they need my role, my responsibility, to be, I'm going to be able to do it for the team."
Does Barkley feel refreshed after not playing for three weeks?
"I don't know if I feel fresh, because I feel like a little kid again and actually get to go out there and play football," he said. "I would say maybe that has something to do with it, but I guess you could say so."
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula twice used "if" when discussing Barkley's availability, but said should he play, the coaches will intend to use him as they normally do.
"I think if he's ready to play, then we kind of just treat it like he's ready to go," Shula said. "I think coach (Craig) Johnson, our running backs coach, he'll monitor that as well. But otherwise, if we had any hesitation at all, we wouldn't even have him out there, if that were the case."
Barkley was limited in practice last week, but the team's medical staff determined he was not ready to return to the field. He has continued to improve and this week he is working without constraints.
"Last week, I was taking reps individually and I was running routes," Barkley said. "But it's different when you actually have to react and make cuts going against the scout team and going against the defense. So, that's the biggest difference, I'm actually practicing this week and I get to actually feel making those cuts and preparing myself for the game."
Barkley said he feels no pain in his ankle when he makes those cuts.
"A lot of it is you're so focused on just making the play and doing the right thing on your play and not messing up and knowing your responsibility," he said. "You're focusing on that."
Barkley left no doubt how much he wants to be on the field on Sunday.
"Really bad," he said. "That's every Sunday, every Thursday, any time we get a chance to play the game. Even when I'm done playing this game one day, I'm always going to want to be out there because you love this game and this is a game that I grew up watching and grew up wanting to do, and I get to wake up every single morning and live my dream. So, obviously, it's very fun coming in here and getting in a lot of hard work in the weight room and in practice and in film, but I think the most fun is going out there and competing with your brothers, so that's what I'm most excited to be able to do."
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Does that mean he will play on Sunday?
"No, I'm just taking it day by day," he said, laughing. "And I guess we'll see."
*Running back Wayne Gallman and defensive tackle Olsen Pierre practiced fully for the first time since they entered the NFL concussion protocol, the former after the Minnesota game on Oct. 6, the latter after the loss at New England a week ago. Tight end Evan Engram was also a full participant. If Barkley, Gallman and Engram all play, the Giants will have in uniform three of the four key offensive players who missed the game against the Patriots.
The fourth, wide receiver Sterling Shepard, remains in the protocol and is limited in practice, where he works under a non-contact restriction.
*Another player deployment that won't be revealed until Sunday is the identity of the Giants' kickoff returner. Rookie Corey Ballentine, who has all nine of the Giants' returns this season, is in the concussion protocol. So, who is next in line?
"That's a good question," special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said. "We'll see."
According to McGaughey, the candidates include wide receivers Cody Latimer (who has 23 career kickoff returns) and rookie Darius Slayton, and safety and punt returner Jabrill Peppers.
Slayton is untested, but he has one valuable attribute that can't be taught: speed.
"We've been training him, McGaughey said. "He did a lot in the spring, and our plan was during the preseason to get him like all of the reps. It just didn't work out, he got the hamstring and all of that stuff. He's been catching punts and kicks every day for the last three months. Just hopefully that work will pay off in the game. We've got Cody, we have some other guys, we've got Pep back there. So, we've got options."
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