EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley is just as hard to pin down in a Zoom news conference as he is on the field.
The Giants' star running back displayed those verbal skills when he spoke to the media for the first time in six months following a minicamp practice.
"You know me, I'm going to take it one day at a time, come in with my head down and ready to work," Barkley said when asked if he had a timetable for playing in a game. "I'm fortunate enough that I don't think that I have anyone around me - not going to think I know from top to bottom, there's nothing that's going to be forced for me to come back. It's going to be whenever my body tells me I'm ready and it will show when I'm ready to go. That's when I'll be able to go out there and be hopefully as good as I was before or even better."
When does Barkley anticipate he will be at 100 percent?
"I just anticipate to come in every single day and work, work hard, work my butt off, listen to the coaches, listen to the trainers, listen to the doctors," Barkley said. "Take it one day at a time and when I'm able to go out there and participate with the team again, I'm going to be ready."
Barkley similarly avoided specifics when asked if he has progressed in his rehab to the point where he is cutting and jumping.
"I'm doing well," he said. "I'm doing pretty well. Just taking it one day at a time. Listen to the trainers. From Ronnie (Barnes, the Giants' senior vice president of medical services/head athletic trainer) to Leigh (Weiss, physical therapist/director of rehabilitation) and all the way down and being in the conversation with the Dr. (Neal) ElAttrache (who operated on his knee) and Dr. (Scott) Rodeo (the team physician) and just listening to them and taking it one day at a time."
Whatever Barkley has done, it has earned positive reviews from coach Joe Judge.
"He comes in every day, he attacks every day from a rehab standpoint," Judge said. "He's had a phenomenal attitude and great motivation, he's been tremendously positive."
Barkley tore his right anterior cruciate ligament early in the second quarter of the Giants' second game last season, on Sept. 20 in Chicago. He underwent surgery on Oct. 30. Barkley has since been diligently rehabbing. He has not been on the field during the Giants' offseason drills, including the current minicamp. The Giants would like him to be available for the Sept. 12 regular-season opener vs. the Denver Broncos, but they will not rush one of their best and most valuable players.
"We are going to make sure that we take Saquon's rehab at the correct rate for his individual body and injury," Judge said. "It's not any mirror of anybody else's injury out there. We have to make sure that we let him get it at his pace and put him on the field, can play 100 percent aggressive and confident and he's going to play safe and he can play effective. Typically, we do Saquon's rehab in the morning before practice so when the players get out there he's already been off the field and a lot of times he's not out there when you're out there.
"We are getting a lot of our rehab done during some of the meeting time. Couldn't be happier with how he is working, showing tremendous leadership this off-season. He's chomping at the bit to get back on the field. We are taking it day-by-day and he's getting better every day."
Aside from fullback Eli Penny and Barkley, the Giants have a new cast of running backs. Gone are Wayne Gallman, last season's leading rusher, as well as Alfred Morris and Devonta Freeman. They have been replaced by Devontae Booker, Corey Clement, Ryquell Armstead and rookie Gary Brightwell.
Though he can't join them on the field, Barkley is an integral member of the group. He is eager to assist his fellow running backs and be a mentor to Brightwell, who was a sixth-round draft choice,
"Going into year four, understanding the offense a little bit more and understanding football a little bit more, even though I wasn't playing last year, just the way I'm able to answer some questions in the meeting rooms, joke around, smile - something like that, joking around," Barkley said. "GB, excited for him, I think he's really talented. Any time in the meeting rooms or anything that I've seen so far in my short - as a veteran, give him advice and help him out as much as I can."
Barkley would prefer to counsel the younger backs on the field. But questions must be answered before he joins them there. For example, does he have any fear his return will not be as good as the Giants and he hope?
"No, it's not a fear," he said. "Because at the end of the day, just being out last year, or the ankle sprain the year before, I don't know if I've been hurt other than that, but I have just belief in that you can control what you can control. Both times that I've been so far in any NFL career were things that really nothing I could have done to change.
"So, for me, I'm just going to continue to work, continue to rehab and try to control the things that I can control and go out there and play free. Just go out there and be 26 and be Saquon Barkley and be that big kid that loves the game of football and plays with a smile and plays for his teammates."
Will he again be the player who rushed for 2,310 yards and 17 touchdowns his first two seasons and was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018?
"I just keep working," he said. "That's how it is. I can't really judge myself from only seven months out of surgery. Even if something was really good or not, that's not me at all. I'm just taking it one day at a time, small little wins, you climb up a mountain, you're not going to get up there in one step, it's a lot of steps and you have to take it one day at a time and that's the approach I'm taking."
Does he have any doubt he will play in the opening game?
"There's not really anything that crosses my mind," he said. "Only thing for me is just work and just try to be ready for my team, whenever that is, and like I said, I'm very blessed and in a great place where I feel like, you never know, other places and different circumstances, you feel like you're being rushed. But I don't think, I know, from coach Judge from the training room from top to bottom from my teammates that I know that they want to see me healthy, but they want me out there when they know I can be out there. For me, it's coming to into work every single day so I can be a help to my team, and we have a successful season."
The Giants take the field at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center for Day 2 of minicamp