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RB Saquon Barkley takes next step in return

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley's current status changed significantly Monday, but his potential availability for the Giants' first regular-season game did not.

Barkley was activated off the physically unable to perform/active list and returned to practice, actions made possible because he passed a physical over the weekend. Although he did not participate in seven-on-seven or full team practice periods, he did individual drills with his fellow running backs.

Coach Joe Judge said Barkley will not play in the Giants' preseason opener Saturday against the Jets, and both he and Barkley were careful to avoid definitive statements about the Sept. 12 regular-season game vs. Denver.

"To be honest, I don't know," Barkley said. "Obviously, you guys know how I am as a competitor. I'm pretty sure you guys know what my thought process is. But at the same time, I'm very fortunate to play for an unbelievable coach and an unbelievable organization that's actually thinking about me and thinking about the rest of my career and the longevity of my career and I don't feel forced. We have a great team here, great strength staff, great trainers who are doing everything they can and when the time is the time, that'll be the time for me to come back."

"I don't think this changes anything (about the Broncos game) at this point," Judge said. "There's nothing different now than what I've talked about the entire time. We're going to be patient with him, we're going to watch how he responds to each situation, and when the doctor says he's greenlighted to go out there and do something, he will.

"I'm sure the next question is going to be something about preseason. When he's greenlighted to do something, we'll go ahead and keep advancing him. I don't have an answer for anything right now preseason-wise or regular season-wise. We're just going to watch him on the field and see how it goes day by day."

It is a good sign that Barkley is back on the field six weeks before the first game.

"My mindset is definitely hopeful and it's definitely better being able to practice now than later on in camp," he said. "It was a little bit just to be able to get out there and just get the feel of things. It's the little things, like forgetting where to go for warmups. I had to ask (fullback) Eli (Penny), 'Where we at? Where we at?' Kind of feeling like a rookie out there again, but it's just good to be back out here and be able to break the team down again and just do what I love to do."

View photos from training camp as Saquon Barkley returns to practice for the first time Monday.

Barkley learned he would be activated on Saturday after consulting with (team physician/orthopedics) Dr. (Scott) Rodeo, (director of rehabilitation/physical therapist) Leigh (Weiss) and (senior vice president, medical services/head athletic trainer) Ronnie Barnes.

"We went over how I feel," Barkley said. "I got to a point in rehab where going over there against garbage cans and cutting on cones, that was all good and stuff, but now I get to a point where I start reacting off of other athletes and they agreed with me. They felt the same.

"Obviously, just one more step in that journey of getting me back. The best part of it is to be back out there with my teammates and just be able to practice even if it's a little bit or a lot, whatever I can do to just get out there and do what I love is important to me."

It has been a long time since Barkley has fully engaged in football activity. Last Sept 20, he tore his right ACL early in the second quarter of the season's second game in Chicago. He underwent surgery and quickly began a long rehabilitation process that continued on a side field with fellow recovering teammates while the rest of the team practiced early in camp. Today, he did a little more but was not permitted to participate in drills with larger crowds.

"I felt really good today," Barkley said. "I'll let you guys in on a little secret with ACL rehab, it's not really the front of the week, it's the back load of the week. Just building that callous up in your body again, taking those reps. When I mean that, not just your knee; in general, it's just football conditioning shape. You can do all the running you do over there, but it's really never similar to football shape.

"The best example I have is if you played high school basketball and high school football, you can play the whole football season and then go play basketball. You can do all that running, but you're not in basketball shape. It's kind of the same thing. Just still listening to my body and it felt good today. I'm going to go in and get in a lift and continue to work on my rehab process and continue to get my knee right and my body right and the more I'm allowed to do it, I'm going to attack it 110 percent and try to get better every day."

Though Barkley is back at practice, the Giants will continue to treat him patiently and cautiously.

"As they keep greenlighting Saquon to do more and more, we're going to let him do more and more," Judge said. "I say all the time, look, I'm not the doctor, I'm the listener. They are the guys with their hands on him with his rehab. Whatever they allow us to do, we will.

"What you're going to see from him these first few days, he'll be doing mostly individual teach periods. We're not going to put him in 11-on-11 or seven-on-seven right now, but as we keep building him up, we'll really kind of start to get his body into the volume of practice, the pace of practice of the players out there, more football drills. That'll be something that benefits him going forward. There's only so much you can do at a certain point with the trainers and strength coaches on the field by yourself. It's time to get him moving forward and as long as they say it's safe for him to do, we'll keep on pushing."

Judge said he will consider playing Barkley in the preseason, most likely in the Aug. 29 finale vs. New England. But there's no guarantee.

"I've had experience with this," Judge said. "There was a day (when he was an assistant in new England) I had to walk in and tell Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and Julian Edelman, 'Hey, all three of you are going to play against the Giants in preseason game four because you haven't done anything competitively in training camp.' Now, they're going to naturally look at you like you're crazy, but the intention isn't to go out there and just say, 'You just have to play.' The thing is, before you get hit in the first game at full speed when the speed does elevate, we want to go out there and just get you used to the tempo of the game, the pace of the game, get you a catch, get you hit, get the feel of being tackled. That's natural preparation. You don't want to put someone in a situation where they're just getting the gauntlet out there getting hit, but that's part of actually preparation, your body understanding and feeling the flow of how to get hit, how to fall, how to recover after that.

"Am I looking to put Saquon into something that's not going to be in his best interest? Absolutely not, but at some point the doctors say, 'He's ready to play,' and if we have the opportunity to get him in at a certain point, we will. But I'm not going to press that timetable."

Conversely, Barkley said he could be ready to play in the regular season without any game action this month.

"I don't think I played in one last year, we didn't have one," he said. "The year before that I don't think I played in one. My rookie year, I played one and got like two carries. So, I wouldn't really be worried about that if I didn't play preseason, because I know that coach and the training staff and the strength staff wouldn't let me out there if I didn't show them something that I'm capable of going out there and wanting to keep myself safe and also going out there and competing at a high level."

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