Saquon Barkley eyes strong finish to record rookie year

Saquon-Barkley

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – If Saquon Barkley has hit a wall, he is determined to run through it.

The Giants’ sensational rookie running back has seen a precipitous drop in his rushing production that last two weeks – 31 yards against Tennessee and 43 yards at Indianapolis. In those two losses, he averaged 2.2 yards a carry and did not have a run longer than 17 yards.

Barkley did augment his running production with nine receptions for 59 yards in those two games.

It was a different story in the four previous games, when Barkley rushed for, in order, 142, 101, 125 and 170 yards, including 51 and 78-yard touchdowns, and the Giants won three of those four contests.

The Giants conclude their season on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Today, Barkley was asked if he has had any problem accepting there will be games where the run game struggles.

“I don’t think you ever accept it,” he said “You go back, you watch what the defense did to stop you, what they did to help them in the game, and what you could’ve done better, and you just learn from that. That’s what’s so special about this game, especially about being a competitor. It’s not always going to go your way. That’s just how life works.

“The last two weeks haven’t been going my way. The Titans, we didn’t play as well as we could as a whole on offense, but last week, we were able to still put up 27 points. I had a really strong outing in the past game for the majority of it. We just didn’t find a way to win. That’s the beauty of the game, when they try to take away one part of your game, and you got to beat them on the next part. We got to find a way to do that. The struggles aren’t hard to accept, because I don’t accept them. I just learn from it and get better.”

Barkley handled his success this season with a modesty and equanimity that would have been impressive for a 10-year veteran. Barkley is not yet 22, but he has remained calm and confident even when his recent numbers have not risen to previous levels.

“He’s really good about being the same guy,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “He’s a very mature football player for a rookie. He’s very passionate about the game and he comes across – you guys (reporters) obviously see him in the interviews, but as we see him in the building every day and before the game, at halftime, on the sidelines, at the end of the game. You guys talk about his leadership, but it’s real and it’s very unselfish and it’s all about the team winning and whatever he can do. He never talks about himself. He always talks about we and us and I think that’s – he’s a little beyond his years already in that regard.”

Barkley is poised to reach a couple of milestones this week. He has 1,886 yards from scrimmage and needs 114 to join Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (2,212 scrimmage yards in 1983) and Edgerrin James (2,139 yards in 1999) as the only rookies in history with at least 2,000 scrimmage yards.

“That would be awesome,” Barkley said. “To be in the likeness of those guys (Dickerson and James) and mentioned in the same category as those guys would be awesome. It would also be awesome, because you don’t do that by yourself. The season hasn’t been the way that we wanted it to go, but to be able to get 2,000 yards with the help of your teammates and the help of the offensive line and coaches, that would be special.”

Barkley has 87 receptions and needs two catches against the Cowboys to surpass Reggie Bush (88 receptions in 2006) for the most catches by a rookie running back in league history. He also needs five catches to break Odell Beckham, Jr’s Giants rookie record of 91.

“To even put myself in the position to come into the last week to get two catches to break someone who I looked up to growing up, Reggie Bush,” said Barkley. “To get 2,000 yards, to do this, to do that – like I said, you can’t do it by yourself. You definitely got to give credit to the men around me, especially the guys up front. Especially (quarterback) Eli (Manning) helping me out as a young guy. Not really worried about the records. I care less if I get to 2,000 or if I get the two receptions. I think it’ll be great, it’ll be special for not only myself, but for the team. It would be more special if we get a win.”

Obviously, the young man has already crashed through a few walls. And he’s not close to slowing down.

*Coach Pat Shurmur has special plans for tonight. He will watch the telecast of his son Kyle’s final collegiate game as the quarterback for Vanderbilt University against Baylor in the Texas Bowl.

I’m looking forward to watching my boy,” Shurmur said. “It’ll be his last college game, and the game starts late enough. It’ll be 9 o’clock, so my work will be done, so I’ll be able to just sit home and watch it. It’ll be cool. I don’t predict, it’s hard to predict those things. But it’ll be fun. Baylor’s a good opponent.”

Shurmur’s wife, Jennifer, and daughters Allyson, Erica and Claire yesterday flew to Houston for the game.

“Certainly I’ll watch it,” he said. “(Kyle has) made really good decisions, he’s graduated, he graduated in three and a half years, he’s been able to play quarterback in the SEC, help his team win. I’m proud of what he’s done certainly, and it’ll be fun to watch him.”

*The same five players who missed practice yesterday did not participate again today: wide receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. (quad) and Russell Shepard (ankle), tight end Rhett Ellison (concussion), linebacker Alec Ogletree (concussion) and defensive lineman Mario Edwards (calf).

Two players who were limited yesterday worked fully today: center Spencer Pullman (quad) and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (hip). Linebacker B.J. Goodson (foot) was limited, and defensive lineman Kerry Wynn (thumb) practiced fully.

*Evan Engram had the Giants’ longest run in Indianapolis with a 14-yard gain. It was the first time a tight end had the Giants’ longest run in a game since Oct. 13, 1968, when Aaron Thomas ran for 23 yards at Atlanta.

*The Giants have re-signed punter Brock Miller to their practice squad to help them prepare for a left-footed punter, this time Dallas’ Chris Jones. Miller was first acquired on Dec. 6, three days before the Giants played in Washington. The Redskins’ Tress Way also punts with his left foot. Miller was released the day following the Giants’ 40-16 victory. He takes the place of tight end Hakeem Valles, who is on the practice squad/injured list.

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