EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants’ future becomes the present Sunday when their last two first-round draft choices, Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones, start together for the first time against the Buccaneers at Tampa Bay.
Barkley, chosen second overall in 2018, is the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Jones, the No. 2 selection this year, this week replaced Eli Manning as the starting quarterback. Now the two 22-year-olds, born less than four months apart, will attempt to lead the Giants to their first victory of the season – and many more after that.
“Daniel being named the starter, I’m happy for him,” Barkley said today. “You train your whole life and work your whole life to be playing in the NFL, and it’s actually going to be happening for him this week. I know he’s been working his butt off, extra work with film, doing a great job at practice, and listening to Eli, so I’m excited for him.”
So is coach Pat Shurmur, who made the decision to insert Jones into the lineup. But he’s much more concerned with results than emotions.
“I think we expect the players that we put in the game to perform well,” Shurmur said. “We try not to make excuses for the fact that players are young. If they’re in there, we expect them to play. I think that goes for quarterbacks as well.”
Jones and Barkley join other young, high-profile quarterback/running back tandems, including Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley with the Rams, and Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb in Cleveland.
“I’m excited, but just more excited for him,” Barkley said of Jones. “I know everyone is making a big deal that he’s the starting quarterback of New York, but I don’t think you guys (reporters) really understand how much effort and hard work you put in since you’re a little kid to get to this moment and get to this position. Yes, it hits you when you get drafted. Yes, it hits you when you hit preseason. But when you actually step on that field and you’re a starting quarterback, you just kind of reflect on all of the hard work that you’ve put in, and all of the adversity you’ve faced. I’m really just more excited for him to go out there and get his first start. I’m going to do whatever it takes, and I know we’re all going to do whatever it takes, to try to have his first start go the way we all want it to go. Our mindset this week is winning.
“I guess you could say the future. But as I said, just more excited for him getting out there and playing in the NFL. But we also understand that there is no need to panic, but we understand we’re 0-2 and we have to do things to get things going, get things rolling, and why not start it this week and go down there against Tampa, against a great team, a great defense, and great defensive coaches and try to come out of there with a win.”
Barkley is young, but he’s already experienced, having started each of his first 18 career games. He’s familiar with the intensity and emotions Jones will experience during the game on Sunday. But Barkley said his new teammate’s demeanor has not changed.
“I don’t think it will until he actually gets out to the field,” Barkley said. “He’s been doing a great job out here in practice. But when I mean actually hits him like, ‘Wow I am in the NFL,’ when he gets that first play and they say hut - boom, it all goes away, just like every play. Just like how it was in college, just like how it was in high school, when you have that first time, and you’re out there after that first play, it all goes away and you just get locked in.
“There is no way (to prepare for it). I don’t know if any of you guys have played in an NFL game, or played through a level to get from high school to college to the NFL, to have that dream and passion since you were a kid, it’s a lot of hard work and there are a lot of things that go into it. For him to be able to experience that feeling, it’s something you can’t prepare for. But like I said, after the first play, you’re right back into it and you’re in that mindset of let’s go out here and let’s go get a win.”
Barkley joined the chorus of those who said the Giants offense will look pretty much as it has since Pat Shurmur became the coach last year. They hope for more production and points, of course, but schematically, the attack is not expected to change much.
“I don’t think it’s going to look very different at all,” Barkley said. “I think we’re keeping the main thing the main thing. I don’t think, even when Eli was out there, it wasn’t like the quarterback position was the reason why we’re not winning games. It was all around, it was all three phases of the ball - offense, defense and special teams. Especially on the offense, we weren’t finishing drives. We were doing a great job of moving the ball down the field and getting to where we needed, but when we get to that third down situation, or when we get to the red zone situation, we haven’t been great. You look at the great teams and the teams that are consistently good every single season, (and) they are great in situational football. I don’t think the offense is really going to change that much, we’ll just keep the main thing the main thing.”
And they must do it with their two primary building blocks for the future playing together for the first time.
*Four of the seven players on today’s Giants’ injury report are wide receivers. The best news was that Sterling Shepard practiced fully for the first time since suffering a concussion at Dallas on Sept. 8 and has been cleared to play. He did not play last week vs. Buffalo. Three more players who were absent or limited yesterday were full participants today: guard Kevin Zeitler (shoulder), tight end Garrett Dickerson(quad) and cornerback Grant Haley (illness).
Two receivers did not practice: Bennie Fowler, who was added to the report with a hamstring injury, and Cody Latimer with a concussion.
“Fowler tweaked his hamstring a little bit,” Shurmur said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll be ready to go.”
Rookie wideout Darius Slayton remains limited with a hamstring injury.