EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In his third and final season at Penn State in 2017, Saquon Barkley played eight games in front of roaring crowds of more than 100,000 fans. Tomorrow night, the assembly will be considerably quieter and smaller for his NFL preseason debut when the Giants host the Cleveland Browns. But that won't diminish the importance of the event or the evening for Barkley.
"I'm big on living in the moment," Barkley said, "and I think probably (tonight) or (tomorrow) morning, that's when the nerves and the excitement will start kicking in. And then I'll be able to go out there and finally live my dream, finally being able to put on a Giants uniform and go out there and play for the New York Giants and play in the NFL. That's going to be a moment that you never forget. I hope I can go out there and maximize every opportunity I get."
Because he was the second overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft and has been labeled the Giants' next big star, Barkley will be among the team's most scrutinized players in the first of the team's four preseason contests. Fans will get their first glimpse of the back who rushed for 3,843 yards and 43 touchdowns for the Nittany Lions. And Barkley wants to see how he and the offense operate in their first game action of the summer.
"I'm definitely anxious," Barkley said. "It's a real game, it's an NFL game. It's live, full contact, and I'm just trying to go out there and take every rep that I can to try to maximize my effort. It's also the first time you put yourself on film. Teams are going to watch that and teams are going to study off of that. So you want to go out there and definitely maximize it."
Barkley, who has taken reps with the starters throughout training camp, is one of five 2018 Giants draft choices looking forward to playing in an NFL game for the first time (the sixth, defensive lineman RJ McIntosh, is on the active/non-football injury list). All of them have said it will be a milestone in their lives, and they will think about what it means to wear an NFL game uniform for the first time. But they won't dwell on it, and will instead focus on their assignments.
Guard Will Hernandez, the second-round selection from Texas-El Paso, is already ensconced as the starting left guard.
"I'm sure when I first go out there, I'll have that little moment," Hernandez said. "Once the uniform comes on and we get ready to play, then it's just all football from there.
"You definitely always get (butterflies), but I use them more for energy than anything. I think it's good to have that feeling, because then it means something to you. Once you get out there, you can't let those butterflies or nerves or whatever take you off your game. Definitely get them."
Hernandez repeated a theme common among both veterans and rookies prior to the first game – after two weeks of practice, it will be good to play against and hit someone else.
"All we've been doing so far is practicing against ourselves," he said. "It's definitely exciting when you get to go against different competition and not just different competition, but NFL players. It's completely different and new to me and I'm very excited to play."
Linebacker Lorenzo Carter, the first of the Giants' two third-round draft choices, said he has looked forward to the game for a while.
"Coming into the week, I was really excited just knowing that it's game week, it's finally here," he said. "I'm just looking forward to getting out there, playing football again, suiting up in the Giants uniform, so it's going to be fun.
"You kind of have to go out there and take in the moment, but at the end of the day it's still a 100-yard football field, so still everything's the same. You're just on a bigger stage, a bigger platform, so it's just go out there and do what we've been doing, play football, play fast and just don't hesitate."
Defensive tackle B.J. Hill was taken with the 69th overall selection, three spots after Carter. Both rookies have worked their way into front seven rotation.
"I'm excited for Thursday to see what I've got against the best of the best," Hill said. "We want to play together as a defense, D-Line to the back end, we want to play as one and run to the ball, get to the ball, play physical, fast and whatever happens, happens."
Hill said he will not be nervous before his first pro game.
"The only time people get nervous is when they're not prepared," he said. "I feel like we've been preparing right for this first game. I'm just excited to get out there."
Quarterback Kyle Lauletta of Richmond was chosen on the fourth round and has taken reps with the third team throughout camp.
"(The game will) be different, especially for a quarterback, because how many times in practice does an offensive lineman miss a block and he (a defender) flies by the quarterback and you step up like it wasn't even there?" Lauletta said. "In a game, if a guy's bearing down on you, you've got to do something. I'm excited for that, to be able to react and kind of just play football. The Browns defense is tricky, too. I think they're going to show a lot of pressures and do a lot of things, so it's going to be a tough one, especially for the first game.
"I'll do my best, try to get the ball out on time and get it there accurately. I think, especially for a young quarterback, once you get one completion, then the next one is a little easier and then you can kind of get into a rhythm. Hopefully, when I get out there on the field the first drive I'm in I can complete a pass and kind of just start to feel more confidence and get into a rhythm. We'll see how it goes."
Won't they all?
*The Giants today filled the vacancy on their roster when they signed safety Mike Basile, who played collegiate football at Monmouth (N.J.) University.
Basile, 6-1 and 185 pounds, completed his four-year career with Monmouth records for total (433) and solo (285) tackles. He was the first player in school history to earn first-team All-Conference honors in four consecutive seasons and was the first Hawk to earn first-team AP All-America honors in the program's 25-year history.
As a senior in 2017, Basile was the Big South Conference co-Defensive Player of the Year. He led the conference with 126 total tackles (91 solo). He was a Big South All-Academic selection and finished sixth in the voting for the Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the top defensive player in the NCCA FCS Division.
The Giants had an opening on their roster after terminating the contract of cornerback Teddy Williams on Monday.