EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When he spoke to the media today, Saquon Barkley had yet to be told if he will play in the Giants' preseason finale Sunday afternoon against the Jets. But whether he does or not, the fifth year running back believes he is good to go for the start of the regular season on Sept. 11.
"I'm really ready," Barkley said. "If I have to compare it to last year, (I'm) way beyond what I was before. At this point last year, I just started to get back into practice (after spending the offseason and camp rehabbing his surgically repaired knee). … And I really didn't have as much of a time just with how the rehab process went with my knee to get myself ready. And now I don't have that. I have the whole camp to come out every single day and do a joint practice against another team, to go against (defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams), find ways to get better and build that chemistry with Felice (center Jon Feliciano) and Drew (tackle Andrew Thomas) and (tackle Evan) Neal."
Barkley has shouldered a heavy workload this summer, including five touches at New England on Aug. 11 – his first preseason game action since 2018. He did not play last week vs. Cincinnati, in part because he was a full participant in numerous physical practices.
"I'm always down for whatever coach (Brian Daboll) wants me to do," Barkley said. "That was his decision. We haven't spoken about what's coming this weekend. But my mindset's just coming in ready and prepared to work."
Barkley's regular participation is far different from his 2021 camp experience, when he was largely a spectator.
"I couldn't practice," he said. "I couldn't really do anything. I was on the side running on the third field just trying to simulate practice as much as I can. There's no way to get the mind and get the body and get in physical shape for football than like actual playing football. So, I use the example like when you're in high school and you're playing football, and then you go right to basketball season, and you think you're in shape because you play football. But then you go to basketball, and you're not in basketball shape. It's just two completely different things. And the only way you can get in football shape is by going out there and playing football. And that's what I was not able to do at this point last year."
Barkley has a more aggressive public demeanor this year. He responded forcefully to critics who said he doesn't run hard enough between the tackles, or the Giants were unwise to take him second overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.
"I would say that's always been me," he said. "I guess just my mindset's different. Just have a different mentality. And I'm just in a place where I'm thankful – blessed. And just taking one day at a time. I wouldn't say anything triggered it, but I guess I would say probably being out a couple of games the last two years. Just probably being fed up and not even with like the outside noise, but even with having to sit out games and rehab and all that, all the bad stuff I guess you could say. I guess I'm just fed up with that. So, that kind of just takes me to a place that right now I'm just happy, enjoying life, enjoying the game I love, and I just want to go out there and have fun."
View photos from the joint practice between the Giants and Jets at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
*Oshane Ximines' summer of opportunity will continue Sunday.
The fourth-year outside linebacker received numerous first team reps early in training camp in part because Azeez Ojulari was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Ojulari returned to the field on Aug. 14, but a week later top draft choice Kayvon Thibodeaux suffered a sprained MCL vs. Cincinnati. Elerson Smith and Jihad Ward have also been sidelined, leaving Ximines as the Giants' most seasoned available edge rusher.
"I feel like we got a great group of guys," Ximines said. "I really think highly of everybody in the room from top to bottom. And we motivate each other every day, and it's a good group. And I'm really looking forward to competing with these guys this year."
With most of the group unavailable, he could get significant playing time against the Jets.
"Every day's an opportunity," Ximines said. "You got to look at it that way in this league, and I feel like no matter where the chips fall or where I'm at, I look at every day, every rep as an opportunity. Practice, game, it doesn't matter."
Ximines had 4.5 sacks while playing all 16 games as a rookie in 2019. He has since played a total of only 14 games without recording a sack. A shoulder injury cost him most of the 2020 season and last year he was often inactive and missed a game with COVID. Now he's trying to get back to the productive player he was three years ago.
"My rookie year feels like it was ages ago now," Ximines said. "But it happened fast. I'm looking up now. I'm in year four, but I feel like if I can just get back to making plays like that, it'll be good for me. And it'll be good for team, too."
With a bigger opportunity to impress, Ximines has caught the eye of coach Brian Daboll.
"I think he's done a good job," Daboll said. "He's been ready to go. He's been available. He's been improving. He's a big-body guy. Got heavy hands. Does a good job of setting the edge. Think he's picked up the defense well. (Outside linebackers Coach) Drew (Wilkins) has done a good job with him. So, we need that from our guys."
*Daboll revealed a list of players who will not be in uniform for the game Sunday vs. the Jets: in addition to Thibodeaux, Ojulari and Smith, it includes wide receivers Sterling Shepard and C.J. Board; offensive linemen Shane Lemieux, Josh Ezeudu, Ben Bredeson and Garrett McGhin; cornerback Rodarius Williams; safety Dane Belton; and kicker Graham Gano.
The status of wideouts Kadarius Toney and Darius Slayton and outside linebacker Jihad Ward will be determined tomorrow or Sunday.
*Daboll was not prepared to say which healthy starters, if any, will play.
"We're going to talk about it today after practice and probably tomorrow morning," he said. "And then we'll have a feel of exactly what we want to do."
*Lemieux, who had been the first team left guard since the spring, has been sidelined since suffering a toe/foot injury in the preseason opener at New England on Aug. 11.
"I wouldn't anticipate him anytime soon," Daboll said, who added Lemieux will "probably not" play in the regular-season opener at Tennessee.
*With Gano sidelined with a concussion, Ryan Santoso was signed today to kick in the Jets game. Santoso was with the Giants last summer before being traded to Carolina.
*Daboll said he doesn't know if Ojulari's calf injury will force him to miss the opener against the Titans. He's "day to day," Daboll said.
View photos of the New York Giants' 2022 roster as it currently stands.