To the naked eye, Saquon Barkley looked like, well, Saquon Barkley on Sunday.
In the Giants’ first practice since defeating the Jets in the third preseason game on Friday night, the second overall draft choice returned to team drills in the wake of tweaking his hamstring on Aug. 13. He was taking handoffs with precision and effortlessly catching passes like a receiver, a good sign for the Giants with two weeks to go until the season opener.
“Yeah, it’s a great sign,” fellow running back Jonathan Stewart said. “He’s a workaholic. A lot of people don’t see the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on and that kid, since the moment he got hurt, it was almost kind of like he was working to get back immediately, so he’s recovered pretty well.”
Barkley was cleared for individual drills this past Wednesday but did not play in Friday’s preseason, the second in a row he missed since breaking a 39-yard run on his first NFL snap in the opener against Cleveland. Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr., who is coming off a season-ending ankle injury, were dressed in pads against the Jets but never left the sideline.
From there, they watched the first-string offense total just one rushing yard on nine attempts in the first half. Compounding issues was Stewart’s fumble after Eli Manning hit Cody Latimer for a 54-yard completion to bring the Giants down to near the Jets’ goal line.
“I just didn’t hold onto the ball,” Stewart said. “Just a minor error, major mess-up. That’s our job as an offense, to hold on to the ball and make the right reads. Something out there, just chalk it up and wait for the next down.”
The longtime Panther with 8,613 career yards from scrimmage is still confident about what he brings to the team after signing this offseason.
“I think this is a time, obviously, where you have an opportunity to work on your craft whether it’s practice, preseason games,” he said. “Getting to gel with the first teams, whatever teams you’re a part of, making the most of your opportunities. Also learn how not to dwell on certain things. At the end of day, goldfish memory because once something bad goes wrong, you have to learn how to bounce back and more forward to the next play because time is going to continue to tick.”
Coach Pat Shurmur was asked today if there is concern about the running game after seeing it for two games without Barkley.
“Certainly when you run the ball well, it’s a team thing,” he said. “When you don’t run the ball, at least early in the game, that’s really the narrative right now. Early in the game, we haven’t run the ball as well as we want to. Regardless of who’s in there playing, we’ve found a way to move the ball as the game goes along. It’s a team thing and we’re working on it to improve those early game runs and I think that’s the important piece.”
*Outside linebacker Olivier Vernon left practice after getting his feet tangled up on a play. He is being evaluated for an ankle issue. “Yeah, you don’t want anybody getting hurt,” Shurmur said following practice. “You want guys to be able to practice and stay healthy. We’ll just see. At this point, I don’t have any information.”
*Second-year tight end Evan Engram, who left the Jets game with a concussion after getting sandwiched by two defenders on a completed catch, was able to do some work on the side with the trainers. “Yeah, very encouraging,” Shurmur said. “As we know, he’s in the (concussion) protocol, so I don’t have much to add. He’s working his way through.”
*The Giants wrap up the preseason on Thursday night at home against the New England Patriots. Shurmur was asked if he envisions the starters playing at all. “We’ll kind of announce that as we go,” he said. “We’ll figure it out as we go. There will probably be some players that don’t play this week.”
View the best images from Sunday's team practice