EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Two years ago, Saquon Barkley's offseason work included rehabilitation on the ankle he had sprained in 2019, an injury that forced him to miss three games. Last year, he didn't practice until the second week of training camp after missing the final 14 games of the 2020 season with a structurally damaged right knee.
Though his 2021 season included three games missed with a sprained ankle, Barkley is currently well enough to set aside rehab during the Giants' offseason conditioning program and focus on learning the team's new offense and pondering how he can flourish in it.
"I definitely feel a lot different, a lot better," Barkley said Wednesday after the team's second voluntary minicamp practice. "I feel like myself again. Obviously, I don't want to jump the gun, I just want to keep focusing on the little things and get better every day. No matter what for the rest of your career, with injuries, every offseason is going to be kind of somewhat rehabbing or prehabbing so you make sure you don't get injured.
"My mindset is just keep working on the little things and focus on the things that I can control. I can't control me stepping on someone's foot and hurting my ankle. I've got to put that in the past. I've got to worry about taking care of my ankle, I've got to worry about taking care of my knee, I've got to worry about taking care of all my body parts so I can be healthy – because I know when I'm healthy I know what I can do for this team and what I'm able to bring to the table."
Coach Brian Daboll is getting an idea of exactly what those capabilities are.
"He's been here," Daboll said. "Great in the meeting room. He's elusive, quick, he's fast. We've had 12 plays in seven-on-seven here, a couple individual periods. But excited to work with him."
Barkley is determined to return to the player who was the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and the first player in Giants history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. He is far ahead of where he was at this point in each of the previous two years, particularly when working largely on his own in 2021.
"I'm not rehabbing the knee," Barkley said. "That's one. I'm not out there thinking anymore. At the time, you're like, 'I'm not even thinking about it,' but then when you replace yourself and look back a year later, you're like, 'Oh my God, it's two completely different things.'
"Getting stronger, getting back to how I like to train, my training regimen. Also adding the new things to keep me healthy – mobility-wise, stability-wise, all those little things. It's not just the now. I want to play this game for a long time. I don't want to have a short career. That comes with taking care of your body. That's really the biggest difference I'm doing, training hard and pushing my body, but also training smart."
Barkley was asked if playing in Daboll's offense will help him be the consistent multi-dimensional threat he was in his first two seasons.
"Not just me," Barkley said. "I feel like I've got a lot to prove. I feel like there's a lot of guys in the running back room, the wide receiver room, the quarterback room, who've got a lot to prove. We're very talented. We believe in each other, and we believe in the system that's in place. Right now, it's about getting one percent better every day.
"Obviously, you start smiling when you see plays work out there and you see how they work in the film room or when you're going over the playbook. You've got to just focus on the little things, getting better every single day. When those opportunities come, make sure we stay healthy enough and we capitalize on the plays that we can make."
The Giants' schedule won't be released until next month, but Barkley is already anticipating the excitement of Kickoff Weekend.
"My mindset from just the last two years, to be honest, I kind of just want to kill, go crazy," Barkley said. "I don't want to jump the gun. It's a long way before September and the start of the regular season.
"To be honest, I'm just tired of whatever is written about me, the BS that's said about me or this team. I want to go out there and prove to this organization that the player they drafted is still there, I can still do special things with the ball in my hands, and I can help this team."
He'll get plenty of opportunities to do that in 2022.
*In two seasons in Daboll's offense in Buffalo, Stefon Diggs caught 256 passes for 3,138 yards and 20 touchdowns in 38 regular-season and postseason games. Those numbers didn't just excite the Bills and their fans but also Kenny Golladay, the wide receiver who believes he can thrive in Daboll's attack in his second season with the Giants.
"Definitely," Golladay said. "I would say we're two different players. Skillset is a little bit different. Those are the two guys (Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka) from high-powered offenses. I'm excited, man. A lot of stuff is coming in. They're putting a lot of stuff on my plate. They're going to do the same on me. We just got to make things happen."
In his debut season with the Giants in 2021, Golladay played in 14 games and caught 37 passes, not one of them for a touchdown – two years after leading the NFL with 11 scoring receptions for the Detroit Lions.
Golladay didn't wait for the end of the season to begin analyzing why he fell short of his objectives.
"To be honest, I kind of had it a little bit toward - like when you have those last few games, we weren't playing for the playoffs, there were a lot of days I thought about what's going wrong, what can I do better," he said. "A lot goes through your mind.
"Once the season ended, I kind of flushed it. Once we got a whole new coaching staff and everything, I definitely kind of just flushed it and focused on let's start something new, turn the page now."
*New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is installing a blitz-heavy, attacking scheme that has elicited favorable review from his players.
"Any position you play, any defensive player is going to love that type of style from a defensive coordinator," lineman Leonard Williams said. "Every defensive player wants to make big plays, get TFLs (tackles for loss), get sacks, get those big type of plays. This is the type of defense to do it in. He's blitzing guys from all different directions. What I've gotten from him that's been helping me with the defense is to learn it as a concept because if we learn it that way, it will show you that it could be the same pressure, but five different guys could be doing that same pressure. I think it's a fun defense so far."