EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – One of Saquon Barkley’s increased contributions to the Giants this season will have nothing to do with running or catching the football.
The reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is visibly asserting himself as a team leader frequently in his second training camp. Barkley is more vocal and demonstrative on the field, in the locker room and anywhere groups of players gather. He wasn’t exactly a wallflower last year, but is now more comfortable speaking his mind.
“I’ve definitely asserted myself in more of a leadership role,” Barkley said today. “That’s the beauty of sports, and especially the beauty of football - you don’t just need one leader. It’s not like when I’m saying I’m asserting myself into that role that I’m the leader of the New York Giants. There’s multiple of us, we all lead in different ways. I’m trying to find my way to lead, and a way that I believe is going to help the team. But I know Evan’s (Engram) going to find his way, Eli (Manning), Tree (Alec Ogletree), AB (Antoine Bethea), Jabrill (Peppers), all those guys, and the list goes on and on, are going to lead in different ways. We all have characters on our team that can help lead a team, and not just one person. I think that’s one benefit I’ve seen a lot.”
Barley said he can be a leader through both deeds and words.
“When I was younger, I would say high school and college, I was a guy that would just come in and work and lead by example,” he said. “And you have to do that, you have to lead by example and show what you’re able to do, but you have to be vocal. That’s where I had to get a little more comfortable, I guess you could say, from last year to this year. As the season went on, I got more comfortable, started being more vocal in the locker room, started being more vocal on the field. I’ve always been more vocal on the sidelines, but came to be more vocal there. Whether it’s you’re up 40 and trying to keep the team going, saying, ‘Finish them, let’s stomp on their necks and finish the game,’ or if you’re down by a lot saying, ‘We got to get rolling, we got to get rolling, let’s go.’”
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said he has noticed Barkley’s increased leadership role.
“As we all know, the best way you can lead is you have to do it within your personality,” Shula said. “I think the biggest thing we talk to our guys about is being a guy that when you walk into the building your teammates know they can count on you to be dependable each and every day. He’s got a little enthusiasm during the course of practice that becomes contagious for guys that maybe aren’t.”
Barkley has been noticeably voluble on the practice field, where he relishes engaging in the good-natured barbs that are traded back and forth between the offense and defense. That is also something he did not feel secure enough to do a year ago. But Barkley is extremely popular among his teammates, and not only for posting gaudy statistics. Asserting himself is another contribution he can make to improving the team.
“(That is) probably me just being a little more comfortable,” he said. “When you’re a rookie, your head is spinning, and you’re just trying to get in here and show these guys that you belong, and I guess now I feel more comfortable. I know that little trash talking, it brings a competitive nature to the team. I know if I’m not bringing it one day, Jabrill is going to bring it, I know D.J. (Daniel Jones) is going to bring it, I know Evan is going to be there, Sterling (Shepard), all those guys. When you have a competitive group and a competitive nature, it only makes your team better because you guys will compete at a high level against each other, and it’s only going to be easier when you go against another team.”
*Giants fans looking to keep track of first-round draft choice Dexter Lawrence might have to search for him along the defensive line prior to the snap.
“He’s a three-position player,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “He can play the five (outside), he can play nose, he can play three (defensive tackle). One of the things that happens, and offenses are creative enough, as a defensive guy we’ll give them a little bit of credit, they are going to motion to make you play more than one spot. They’re going to make you have to slide the front and move the front. A guy that’s a nose might have to become a three technique, and a guy that’s a three might have to become a nose. To say anymore that a guy is just a nose, you’re going to flip tackles and you’re going to do all that kind of stuff, it’s really not feasible with the way the game is right now. You need to be able to do that. I think he is, as we all have seen him running around, there’s not a lot of 300+ (pound) gentlemen who are as athletic as he is and as powerful as he is in the same breath. I think that’s one of the reasons, he has the ability to play three positions.”
*Another multiple-position rookie is defensive back Julian Love, a fourth-round draft choice who most often plays in the slot but can also line up at corner or safety.
“I think most, if not all, nickels play a second position,” Bettcher said. “A guy that might be a primary nickel, his second position might be corner, or it might be safety. The last place I worked at (Arizona), our nickel was also a safety, so that’s usually what comes with the territory with a nickel - that’s not the sole position that they are playing. That’s also one of the two positions they are going to play, corner nickel or safety nickel. He just happens to be playing some safety right now with it.
“I think for his development he needs to play behind, as well, because when you play in the slot, you’re involved in a lot of things. You could be involved in a run front at times, you’re going to be involved in a lot of mixed coverages, and by being able to play safety, you understand what the nickel is doing. As well as playing nickel, you have to understand what the safety is doing. Those will go hand-in-hand at times. He’s like the other guys. He’s really eager, he wants to learn, he wants to get better, he’s highly engaged, and he’s working on figuring out what his process is to be able to learn and be able to make himself a better player. As he continues to do that, like these other young guys, he’s going to keep getting better.”
*Wide receiver Sterling Shepard continues to improve after breaking his thumb last week. He wore his “do-not-touch” yellow vest for only part of practice today.
Check out the best action shots from Friday's training camp practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.