EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley will come face-to-face with one of his first NFL tormentors on Sunday, and this time it will have a much greater competitive intensity.
When the Giants play the Detroit Lions in Ford Field, Barkley will run into a defensive front that is anchored by his former teammate, Damon "Snacks" Harrison. The two had numerous practice field encounters before Harrison was traded to the Lions one year ago tomorrow, though they were far friendlier than what is likely when they meet as adversaries for the first time. Each team is looking to end a three-game losing streak.
"I remember last year, he said something like, in the beginning when I first got here, that he can't wait to hit my 'You know what,'" Barkley said today. "He always used to joke around here and on Twitter and stuff like that. But he's Snacks, he's a great dude. When he was here, he was someone that I was able to go to talk to for advice, just how to handle yourself throughout your career. He's been playing at a high level for a really long time. He's well-respected, so I'm really excited to get to go play against a guy like that."
According to the Lions, Harrison last year became the first defensive lineman since 1930 to appear in 17 games in a season – including the first seven for the Giants - and only the eighth player to do so since 1931. He was able to accomplish that rare feat because he was dealt prior to the Giants' bye week, but after Detroit had its week off.
Harrison has started all six games this season and all but one of his last 103 games. This season, he has been credited with 15 tackles (seven solo), two tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks. He joins end Romeo Okwara and linebacker Devon Kennard as former Giants now starting for the Lions.
"He's a heck of a player," Barkley said of Harrison. "He's a great player. I know personally, he wanted to get his hands on me since I got here last year, so he's going to actually get that chance. But not only him, Romeo, all of those guys that we've got over there right now, they're heck of players. I wish nothing but the best for them, but this week I just hope they don't play to the level that they are capable of."
Barkley will play his second game after missing the previous three with a sprained ankle. Last week against Arizona, he led the Giants with 72 rushing yards on 18 carries and caught three passes for eight yards.
Barkley said when he watched the tape of the game he saw a strong impersonation of his normal self.
"The only thing I felt personally, in the beginning I think I tried to do a little too much," Barkley said. "I went back to my college habits, my old habits a little bit. But I guess that was just more excitement. But as the game went down, I felt like I settled down in the run game, but I didn't make enough plays to help my team win. That happens, so you go back and you watch it, you learn from it and move on. Now you get ready for Detroit on Sunday."
Barkley briefly left the game after that his landed awkwardly on the ground but said today he was not scared that he was seriously re-injured.
"No, it was football," he said. "The probability of him actually landing like that again on me is probably not high. I was a little upset that, more upset to the fact that it happened again. That's football, that happens when you have a high ankle sprain. There are going to be times when you feel a little bit of pain, but you also have to be a man and know where you're able to toughen up at. I think in that spot and in those areas, I am able to."
Is lingering soreness something Barkley will have to deal with for a few weeks?
"If it's anything like it was when I had it in college, I don't want to put a time on it, but it didn't last a whole season in college (at Penn State)," Barkley said. "The rest of the season in college I felt it for a little bit, but the more time you give to relax it and treat it, the better it feels throughout the year. But nothing that I'm concerned about."
Barkley was a full practice participant today after he was limited yesterday. Coach Pat Shurmur, who is always monitoring the cumulative wear of the season on his players, said Barkley's practice load will be reduced at times.
"He may be a guy that we rest a little bit throughout the weeks to get him ready for the game," Shurmur said.
Barkley, ever the good teammate, has no problem with that.
"As a competitor, you want to, not just only in the game but in practice, go out there every single day," he said. "But whatever is going to benefit the team and benefit me, I guess, to help my team on Sunday. So that's the way that coach believes is going to help. Like I said, continue to be open-minded like I was when I had the injury. Be open-minded and just take it day by day and continue to try to prepare myself to be ready."
On Sunday, he'll have to be ready for a 350-pound former teammate looking to put him on the ground.
*Rookie cornerback Corey Ballentine remains in the concussion protocol and did not practice. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard is still limited because he is in the protocol. Wide receiver Cody Latimer (quad) and linebacker Lorenzo Carter (ankle) practiced fully.
*The Giants this week signed linebacker Deone Bucannon, their fourth player who previously played for defensive coordinator James Bettcher with the Cardinals. The others are safety Antoine Bethea, defensive tackle Olsen Pierre and linebacker Kareem Martin (who is on injured reserve).
"My history with Buc, the things I know for certain about him, he loves football, he plays fast, he's a guy that was always much more physical than the frame and the stature of the guy," Bettcher said. "That's really what stick out to me. I think just getting him out here the last couple of days, getting back into our system and our scheme, we are able to have some of the conversations reflecting back to Arizona and some of the things we did. He's working hard and he wants to try to earn some time."
*Coordinator Thomas McGaughey said he wasn't just challenging Mike Thomas last week before the safety and special teams captain blocked a punt that resulted in a touchdown vs. Arizona.
"We were kind of struggling a little bit as far as just who are we as a group, our identity," McGaughey said. "There's been a lot of turnover, a bunch of different guys. The guys we had in the spring, there's not a lot of the same guys, a bunch of different guys. So, not so much challenge Mike T, but just challenge the room. We've played at a certain level here when it comes to special teams, and I wanted the room to understand that this is the level that we play at, we play here. Regardless of who is in the game, we're not making excuses like 'This guy is here,' or 'This new guy is here,' or 'We've got three new guys here, we're rotating, we've got to set up a new punt team.' There's no excuse. Nobody cares. Literally, nobody cares and there's no help coming, so let's go. So, that was kind of the message to the room."
Keep an eye on these five players when the New York Giants travel to face the Detroit Lions in Week 8.