EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley touched the ball 352 times in his extraordinary rookie season, but instead of giving his body a break, he would like nothing more than an opportunity to catch and carry the ball again this week.
"Honestly, wish we can get started right away," Barkley said today, as the 2018 Giants gathered for the final time. "It's going to suck staying home watching the playoffs, and knowing that you're not in there and wanting to be in there. But that's also going to motivate you to work harder, work extra and push yourself to be a better player for your team next year so that next year you're not home watching the playoffs. I would love to get going right away, but this is my first time having an NFL offseason, so I want to make sure I do this right.
"I was just talking with my running back coach (Craig Johnson). I don't want to take too much time off and I don't want to not take enough time off, so try to find a balance, talk to vets. I talked to Frank Gore, he gave me some great advice with how he handles it, (Johnathan) Stew(art). I'm going to try to find the right thing for my body to balance it and get me in the best shape I can to come out in April and get ready to get the season started again."
The Giants' season ended yesterday with a 36-35 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, their second consecutive one-point loss (an NFL first for the final two games). They finished 5-11 and immediately began thinking about 2019.
The team's annual highlight film will certainly feature much footage on Barkley, who had perhaps the greatest season by a rookie in Giants history. He obliterated the franchise rookie record for rushing yardage with 1,307, set first-year marks for touchdowns (15) and rushing scores (11), set an NFL record for rookie running backs with 91 catches (which tied Odell Beckham, Jr.'s franchise record for newcomers), and became one of just three rookies in league history with more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
The Giants' offseason conditioning program is scheduled to begin on April 15. What does coach Pat Shurmur hope to see from his star running back?
"A better version of his former self," Shurmur said. "I think that's important. That was part of the message I already mentioned to the players, is making sure that they keep moving forward. All year, it's been about team and tough and together, and that really doesn't stop when the guys leave the building."
Barkley might not be in the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, but he'll never be far from football. When he lines up next year, his gaudy rookie stats will be just a few lines in the team's media guide. He knows he will have to prove he's more than a one-year wonder, and it's an understatement to say he's eager to pursue that goal.
And that will begin with an offseason in which he will condition his body with an eye toward improving as a player.
"Most important thing that I'll take into this offseason is try to do a little extra with workouts, with reps, with on-field stuff," Barkley said. "Finish, finish better. I'm a big believer in what you do in the offseason, what you do in the weight room and what you do in your workouts translates to the field. The biggest thing, I think, that we weren't able to do as a team this year is not finish out games. I don't know what the stat is – eight, seven, six, how many games we lost by seven points or fewer (it was eight, the most by any NFL team). Obviously, that's just the nature of the game and the nature of the NFL and how close games are going to be.
"But that's going to be in the back of my mind and when I'm working out, always find a way to – obviously everyone, I don't care who you are, you're human, you're going to get sore, you're going to get tired, but find a way to fight through that and power through that. When I'm in that situation on the field, I could be there for my team to step up and make plays or lead in those situations better."