FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Saquon Barkley was excited to practice today after a one-day personal absence and thrilled to get his first few full-team reps of training camp. But wearing that bright red, do-not-touch jersey? Not so much.
"I hate it, I hate it," Barkley said after the Giants' second and last joint workout with the New England Patriots outside Gillette Stadium. "You've got to do what you've got to do. I said something in the locker room today, 'I don't care if it's pink, orange, yellow, whatever color is on, as long as I'm going to be able to get out there. I'm going to take some reps for my team and that's the only thing that matters to me.'"
Barkley took brief but significant strides wearing the unconventional color, which is normally reserved for the quarterbacks and punter Riley Dixon (kicker Graham Gano also donned a red jersey here). The Giants have brought him along steadily but slowly since his knee surgery 10 months ago. He passed his physical and began practicing on Aug. 9. Today, he took his first reps in seven-on-seven drills and then his first four in 11-on-11.
"It feels good being with the team, feels good to get a couple of team reps," said Barkley, whose 2020 season ended after five quarters when he tore his ACL in Chicago. "It's just fun to be able to play football again, feel like a little kid and just taking it day by day."
Coach Joe Judge made it clear prior to practice that Barkley would be protected while carrying a light load today.
"The biggest thing we're going to do is manage his volume," Judge said. "He'll be in a red jersey. Just like guys in red jerseys yesterday, it'll be non-contact on those players, whether it's a quarterback, punter or a position player. We want to make sure we stay off of them. He's going to do some stuff on the seven-on-seven. He'll work mostly early in practice. We're only looking to get this guy 10-12 or so reps, build his volume up little by little and when that's done he'll condition with the trainers."
Barkley made the most of his limited opportunity, catching two passes in a two-minute drill. The second would have gained a large chunk of yardage had it not been in the controlled practice environment, where the officials quickly blow the play dead. But Barkley still absorbed some light contact from a Patriots defender.
"I think that's a positive thing because it (answering a reporter's question) is the first time I'm thinking about it, so I would say it's a good thing," he said. "I really didn't think about that at all. When I caught the ball, I wasn't even thinking about my knee or anything. That kind of naturally happens, it's like I said before when we talked, the stuff where it's easier for me in the rehab process is when we were assimilating football stuff. So much stuff is going (on) out there on the football field, it really takes your mind off of it. I would say that's a positive sign."
Had it been a game, Barkley likely would have lined up for the next play behind Daniel Jones. Instead, he was replaced.
"Obviously, as a player you want to stay in," he said. "I honestly think the second one I might have gotten a lot more than what we were counting for. I kind of just saw, I think (running back) Corey (Clement) running off the sideline, so I knew I was coming off. Just getting back to the feel of things, caught a little swing route in the 7-on-7 and really forgot we were in the low red zone. It's those little stuff that is just going to come to you naturally as you continue to take more reps."
Judge said yesterday it is important for Barkley – and every player – to experience live contact before the regular season begins Sept. 12 against Denver. The Giants play their final preseason game Sunday vs. the Patriots. Judge has not committed Barkley to play in that contest. So…does enough time exist for Barkley to get that necessary contact?
"I'd say there's enough time to get a lot of things accomplished," Judge said. "Again, the medical team will play a large part in where everybody is available for specific parts, but as we build in he's consistently ramped up every week, increased his volume, increased his load. Today he'll be in team drills for the first time, so we'll how he handles today, and we'll build him in tomorrow."
Barkley looks forward to his first hard physical confrontation with a defensive player.
"I definitely want to get hit again," he said. "To me, it's not just the hitting, it's just playing football. Even though I only took two reps and a couple of reps in seven-on-seven, those reps are so valuable right now and going to help me in the long run.
"That's the next thing, to be completely honest," he said. "It's just taking it one day at a time. But we're at the point where I'm allowed to start taking team reps and those steps are going to happen naturally, especially throughout a couple more weeks coming up. You know me, as a player I want to go out there and make plays and especially in those situations when it's two minute and it's our team versus their team. Those things are going to come naturally, and I've just got continue to be patient and when I have the opportunities, take advantage of them."
View photos of the Giants practicing with the Patriots in New England ahead of Sunday's preseason finale.
*Cornerback Adoree' Jackson left practice yesterday with an ankle injury, but Judge said it is not serious.
"We're going to check to see how he is today," Judge said. "He'll be with the trainers a little bit, we'll see where we can ramp him up to. Looks like we dodged a bullet right there, but we'll see day by day how it is and we'll move him around a little bit today with the trainers."
*Guard Shane Lemieux, linebacker Tae Crowder and defensive tackle Danny Shelton remained in New Jersey to rehabilitate injuries.
"Everyone was on an individual medical basis," Judge said. "There were some things that were more available in Jersey than they are up here, so certain guys we left behind just to make sure they had the availability of rehab they needed, equipment they needed and what they're doing specifically themselves."
*Judge again concluded practice with post-practice conditioning work on the steep hill behind the Patriots' practice fields.
"I think it's a great tool," Judge said. "It's a great way of conditioning your players, but it's a great way of conditioning your players safely. One thing the hill does with the incline is it actually protects the lower extremities with the soft tissue injuries, so it's an ability of really pushing your players when they're tired and training them to build in that conditioning without really exposing them to something dangerous."
*The Giants will practice tomorrow in MetLife Stadium.