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Saquon Barkley eyes final hurdle in comeback

SAQUON-BARKLEY-RUN

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – If Saquon Barkley is as difficult to pin down on the field as he was in his news conference on Friday, he won't be tackled all season.

The biggest Giants question in the final hours before their season opener Sunday against the Denver Broncos is whether their star running back will play. But Barkley dodged that question as successfully as he has eluded numerous defenders in his short but brilliant career.

Barkley seems sufficiently recovered from his reconstructive knee surgery to carry the ball against Denver, but he needs the final approval of the team's medical staff before putting on his blue No. 26 jersey. He said he would speak to senior vice president of medical services Ronnie Barnes and director of rehabilitation/physical therapist Leigh Weiss.

"He's got to go through the medical staff a little bit," coach Joe Judge said. "He's got to go a little bit through the medical staff and doctors kind of considering a couple things."

Barkley insists he will not lobby to play.

"I'm going to go in there, I'm (going to) sit down and I'm going to say, 'I'm going to do whatever the team wants me to do,' and whatever they believe is the best thing for me and for the team and if they feel like it's ready for me to go, then I'm ready to go," Barkley said. "If they feel like they think I should wait it out a little bit, then I'll wait it out a little bit."

Asked prior to practice what it would take for Barkley not to play, Judge said, "I'd say some kind of a setback that's unforeseen that would happen today or some kind of response to his body after practice with going through a week of practice, what he looks like."

Barkley responded after coming off the field, "I didn't have a setback. We had a great practice as a team. You want to come out here and have a fast Friday and look crisp. Obviously, throughout the team period, I think we did a great job as a team. Now, we've got to go back, watch some more film, get our bodies right and get ready for Sunday.

"I wouldn't go out there if I didn't feel confident that I could protect myself and be helpful for the team. That's going to come within the conversations that obviously coach Judge and the doc and Leigh and Barnes have, and that'll kind of be, I guess the indicator with how I feel and how this week went whether I guess I play this week or not."

Barkley suffered a serious knee injury in Chicago last Sept. 20 and underwent surgery on Oct. 30. He has assiduously followed the medical staff's directives throughout his rehabilitation, which stressed deliberation and steady progress instead of trying to beat a deadline. Now that he is so close to the finish line, Barkley won't digress.

If that means missing the game Sunday, so be it.

"I'm sticking to the game plan," Barkley said. "I knew this was going to be a tough rehab process with my knee, what happened with my knee. I knew it wasn't going to be easy to get back, but I said I made a promise to myself that I'm not going to rush it. I'm going to go out there and be a team player. I'm going to listen to everyone that I'm working with. I'm not the expert in this area, so I'm going to listen to them. (The) only thing I know I can do is attack at full speed, go out there and work my butt off to get myself the best opportunity and just stick with the game plan.

"So, that's why when I come up here and I say that's how I'm going to go up there to meetings, and say whatever the team wants me to do or when I come up here and I say I take it one day at a time, that's not just some B.S. to you guys so you guys can't go write that I might play here, I might play there. It's me being real, it's me being honest. That's my mindset I've had throughout this whole rehab process and I'm going to have for the rest of my career. I'm going to take it one day at a time, I'm going to cherish every moment because the game could be taken away from you at any moment."

View photos of Giants running back Saquon Barkley.

It would be the summer's biggest understatement to say Barkley's teammates are eager to have him join them on the field against the Broncos.

"I think he looks great," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "I think he's done a great job following what the trainers and the doctors have told him to do. He looks good practicing. He's practicing hard and he looks really good.

"I think he's an unbelievable athlete. You can tell with the ball in his hands, the way he runs routes, he's an explosive guy and he certainly looks really good."

"This is my first year playing with him and I'm happy for him," wide receiver Kenny Golladay said. "I've seen the work he's put in. I've seen, once he got back on the field, how happy he was that he was able to feel like himself again and that's huge. Having 26 out there on that football field with us is going to make a lot of peoples' day a lot easier."

One factor the Giants will likely consider is they will have just three days off before playing at Washington on Thursday. Giving Barkley some extra rest and have him debut against the defending NFC East champion is a potential option.

"I think the thing about Saquon is the guys respect how he's worked, and they see how hard and long a journey it's been for him to come all the way back from where he's been and what he's done off the field, what he's done from a leadership standpoint," Judge said. "The things he's had to go through and the attitude he's displayed along the way to put himself in position to potentially play Week 1, Week 2, wherever it may end up being, hopefully sooner than later. But I'd say in terms of the emotion around that, I think everyone's just genuinely happy for this guy and is really doing everything he can, like they would for any teammates who has worked this hard to get back, for him to have success when he finally does."

Whenever does play, he's going to savor every second.

"I've been thinking about just playing back on Sunday in front of fans since probably a week after my injury," he said. "Obviously, you have that little state of mind where you're upset. You're like, 'Why me?' You're depressed and this and that, but then it's come to kind of right after – you've got to start grinding and getting yourself back. I'm a big visualizer thinker so I've been fantasizing of getting back on that field with my teammates and playing in there in front of fans. Obviously, last year we didn't have fans, so whenever the opportunity does come, it's something that I'm definitely going to cherish and never take for granted again."

View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 1 matchup against the Broncos.

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