EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley and his offensive coordinator today delivered figurative stiff arms in response to what has become the media's issue of the week regarding the Giants: the third-year running back's pass protection skills.
The tempest was ignited when Tiki Barber – the Giants' career rushing leader- criticized Barkley for his pass protection.
Barkley, who rushed for six yards and caught six passes in the Giants' 26-16 season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night, has received criticism for his blocking in the past and he's not losing sleep after hearing it again.
"Obviously, Tiki is a legend," Barkley said. "He has done a lot of great things for this franchise. I'm not going to look at it as disrespect, I'm going to look at it as a challenge. Same thing with him, like everyone else, I really don't care about outside opinions. I'm really focused about the opinions in this building. Try to come to work every single day and get better."
Barkley said pass protection is just one point of emphasis in practice, because he continually works to elevate all facets of his game.
"I come to work every single day with the mindset, try to improve in everything," he said. "Focus on the little things. Whatever the drill is, focus on that. If it's the pass game, focus on catching the ball, if it's pass pro, if it's run game, focus on making the run cuts and the right reads. When I'm in the open field work on my moves and work on finishing scoring touchdowns.
"I know this is going to be the question or the kind of the theme of this media session about my pass pro. I understand that I probably made some mistakes in pass pro and I put it on film. I know it's going to keep coming, people are going to keep challenging me. It's a good way to keep me in and stop me from getting to open space and making plays there too also. I just have to keep working at it, keep getting better and that's going to be my same answer for the rest of the pass pro questions."
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett conceded Barkley's blocking wasn't perfect against Pittsburgh, but he fully supports the third-year back.
"Great respect for Tiki, first of all," Garrett said. "He was a teammate of mine (from 2000-03). I've known him for a long time and I really respect him as a person and as a player in this league. Having said that, we really try to focus on what we need to do with our guys and do internal evaluations of how they play.
"One of the things we love about Saquon is his desire to be a complete back. That's running the football, both inside and outside, as a pass receiver and also as a pass protector. Having said that, he can improve in all areas. That's something that we like so much about him, is his desire to come in and get better and strive to be a complete back. There were some examples of him blocking well in the passing game the other night. There were some examples of him not blocking as well as he needs to. He knows that. We're working on that, we're trying to get him better in that area. But we love his approach, we love his desire to be a complete back, and that's going to help him and our team going forward."
Head coach Joe Judge yesterday was the first member of the organization to field a question about Barber's remarks. And as he most often does, he aimed his response at the team instead of one player.
"Look, we're all working hard every day to get better at everything we do," Judge said. "We're coming out of training camp, we have one game under our belt. There's not a player or a coach on our team that doesn't have to improve going into Week 2, and then consistently throughout the season. We have to go ahead and make up some ground quickly. But we have confidence in all of our players. We're going to work on every technique we have to in all aspects of the game.
"People pay a price to watch us play. Everyone's opinion is valid if they're a fan. We have to make sure on the inside we understand what we're doing and that we prioritize on what we have to work on. But I respect Tiki. Obviously, he's a guy that knows the game. He's been a great player for this organization. But we're going to go ahead and make sure we get everybody rising."
Though this is not unchartered territory for Barkley, it's a place he has visited infrequently since his arrival two years ago. The 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is more accustomed to receiving acclaim than negative analysis. He'll deal with this as he does all games that don't meet his lofty standards.
"It happened. The game happened," Barkley said. "I had 15 carries for six yards. I think I tied for the second-lowest (yardage) of all time with 15 carries or more. Guess what? I came to work this week with a smile on my face, ready to work and ready to get better. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you praise me or you say negative things about me. I'm not going to use that motivation because my motivation is to be great myself. I don't need you guys to push me that way. I need to focus on myself and try building up myself. This week, there's no extra motivation. There's no this or that or the third. It's just try to come in and get the W for the Giants."
View photos of Thursday's practice as the Giants gear up for their first road game of the season in Chicago.
*The NFL today released a breakdown of Kickoff Weekend rosters and one notable tidbit is the Giants began the season with a league-high 15 players who weigh 300 or more pounds.
According to the league, these are the averages of the players on the Giants opening day roster:
Height: 6.20 (NFL average, 6.17)
Weight: 247.95 (NFL average, 244.74)
Age: 25.78 (NFL average, 26.03)
Experience: 3.91 years (NFL average, 4.17)
Rookies and first-year players: 9 (NFL average, 9.69)
Players age 30 and over: 6 (NFL average, 8.34)
*Everyone on the roster practiced today but three players were limited: wide receiver Golden Tate (hamstring), defensive back Adrian Colbert (quad) and rookie linebacker Carter Coughlin (hamstring).