It did not take long for Joe Judge, the Giants' new head coach, to win over running back Saquon Barkley. While the calendar may still read January, Barkley said it took only one encounter for him to see just how ready Judge is to get to work.
"He's awesome…" Barkley said during an appearance on NFL Network from Miami, home of Super Bowl LIV. "I talked to him on the phone when he got hired and congratulated him. But when I got to go meet him, you just see that look in his eye that he wishes it was August or July already. He's ready to go."
It may be his first opportunity as a head coach, but Judge has some impressive coaching experience on his resume. He coached under Nick Saban at Alabama for three seasons before serving on Bill Belichick's staff in New England for eight years. Judge has learned from two of the greatest football coaches of this generation, and after only three weeks on the job, the Giants coach has already impressed Barkley.
"He's going to make sure we're a team that's focused and that really focuses on the details, and is going to go out there and not lose games on ourselves" the 22-year-old running back said. "Make teams actually beat us. I just love the things that he's been saying so far in his interviews, in the conversation I had with him. I'm excited and I'm ready to go."
A new head coach is not the only change Barkley is going through this year. For the first time since joining the Giants, Barkley will go through an offseason without Eli Manning as his starting quarterback.
Manning called it a career last week after spending all 16 of his professional seasons with the Giants. The veteran quarterback led the franchise to two Super Bowl Championships while taking home the MVP award in both games. Throughout his time with the Giants, Manning never missed a game due to injury, and was named the recipient of both the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award (2016) and the Bart Starr Award (2020). While they spent just two seasons together, it is clear that Manning made a strong impression on the young running back.
"Some of the things he's taught me is no matter what, ups, downs, win by 40, down by 40, come into work the same way," Barkley said about the recently retired quarterback. "I've seen that in the last two years with him. That's the same guy. Especially with the New York media and the New York market where things can get hectic, especially being a star player or a star quarterback, people are going to say a lot and say what they want about you. But just the way that he handled himself every single day is something that just caught my attention and something I hope to continue to add to my career and hopefully continue to improve in that."
The Eli Era may be over, but Barkley is quite confident that the torch is being passed to the right man in Daniel Jones. In 12 starts during his rookie campaign, Jones threw for 3,010 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The 22-year-old set several franchise rookie records in 2019, including passing yards, touchdowns, completions and attempts. Jones also matched an NFL rookie record with three games of four or more touchdown passes, tying Fran Tarkenton and Deshaun Watson.
"He's talented. He's got God-given talent, he can make all the throws, but scratch that," the running back said about Jones. "It's the work ethic. It's the mindset, the mentality that he has. You wouldn't really know that unless you're in the locker room with him or you're in the weight room with him or you see him in the meeting rooms, because he just comes off as a chill, relaxed guy. But he has that killer mindset."
Jones finished the season with the most passing touchdowns among all rookie quarterbacks, while ranking second in yards per game and third in completions. While the first-year signal-caller may have finished at or near the top of the leaderboard in several categories among rookies this past season, Barkley believes that if he continues on his current path, Jones can eventually become one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
"He has that mindset to be a great leader and to want to be a great player and want to be one of the best," Barkley said. "I truly believe if he keeps that up, he's going to be one of the best quarterbacks to play this game. He's going to help us and help the Giants win a couple of championships hopefully."
The franchise may be going through some big changes in 2020, but with Judge, Barkley and Jones leading the team, the future appears to be bright for the New York Giants.
Photos of Giants running back Saquon Barkley.