EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants players this week elected seven team captains for the 2019 season. Six of them average 13 years of NFL experience, none of those six have been in the league for less than six years, and three of them have played for well more than a decade – Eli Manning (16th season), Antoine Bethea (14th) and Zak DeOssie (13th).
Saquon Barkley is the outlier among the Giants captains. Not many players who are selected Rookie of the Year one season become a team captain the next. That Barkley as a second-year pro joins Manning and tackle Nate Solder (ninth season) as the Giants' offensive captains is an indication of the respect he has among his teammates.
"It means everything," Barkley said today. "It's awesome to be a captain for my team and for them to vote for me, especially being a young player in my second year. But at the end of the day, captain or not, I wasn't going to change. Just because I've got a 'C' on my chest, I'm not going to act out of myself. I'm just going to continue to try to keep the same mindset and continue to try to do the little things right, and encourage and push my teammates, and push myself, and try to be the best teammate I can be for my team."
Barkley will participate in his first pregame coin toss on Sunday, when the Giants begin their season against the Dallas Cowboys in AT&T Stadium. He welcomes the added responsibility that comes with the position.
"Being a captain is someone you can hold accountable, that they know is going to hold up to the standard," Barkley said. "That's how I visualize when I think, when you vote for captains for your team. That's how I was when I voted for the people that I voted for, but like I said, to be a captain to me means a lot because it's coming from the team, it's coming from the people in this locker room, the men that you go out there every Sunday - or every day in practice and practice with and grind at a high level. So, to be voted by them means the world to me."
Of course, Barkley's real work will start after the opening kickoff, when he plays in a game for the first time in 252 days, the Giants' 36-35 loss to Dallas in the 2018 season finale. He will be challenged by a talented and speed-laden Cowboys defense that features premier linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.
But it's his matchup with a player against whom he will not compete directly that perhaps most interests fans. Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott this week reported to the team after signing a lucrative six-year contract extension. Last year, Elliott won the NFL rushing title with 1,434 yards. Barkley was second with 1,307. Barkley led the league with 2,028 yards from scrimmage. Elliott was second with 2,001. Each player also led his team in receptions, Barkley with 91 and Elliott with 77.
Because they entered the league two years apart and play in the same division, Barkley and Elliott will certainly spend their careers being compared to each other.
"He believes he's the best, I believe I'm the best," Barkley said. "You ask (the Rams') Todd Gurley (whose 1,251 rushing yards placed him third in the league) and he's going to believe he's the best. That's how it should be. We're some of the top running backs at the top of the game, and we're very confident. You want to play at a high level, and you look at any sport, people who play at a high level, they have a lot of confidence in themselves. I have a lot of confidence in myself, he has a lot of confidence in himself, and he felt like he's the best, and he felt like he should've gotten paid the best, and he did get paid. So, congratulations to him and like I said, just happy to see him on the field and can't wait to go against those guys on Sunday."
In two games vs. Dallas last season, Barkley rushed for 28 and 109 yards (the former his lowest total of the season) and caught 14 and four passes (the former a Giants single-game record). Elliott rushed for 78 yards and had five receptions, but for just nine yards. He did not play in the December game because the Cowboys rested him for the playoffs. Each player scored one touchdown against the other's team.
Barkley said he will derive no extra motivation from Elliott's return.
"It doesn't matter if he was there or not," Barkley said. "Obviously, as a competitor, would I rather him be there? Yes. I'm not going to sit here and lie. But more motivation I think, sitting out four preseason games and just watching my team play was enough motivation for me to get out there and play."
Spoken like a true captain.
*The Giants begin their season with the same kicking battery as last year – DeOssie snapping, punter Riley Dixon holding and Aldrick Rosas placekicking.
Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey today shed light on the return game.
"You know how we do it. - it's always kind of a hodge-podge," McGaughey said. "Jabrill (Peppers) will probably be back there returning punts, and Antonio Hamilton, (so) we'll have those guys to work with. Kickoff return-wise, it will be the same guys you've seen in the preseason - Cody (Latimer) and Corey (Ballentine). We'll go from there and rock with it. Those guys are talented. Jabrill has been doing it his whole life, it's like riding a bike for him. (We've been) putting him back there, he's practicing every day, getting him back into the flow of the game, (so) he'll be fine."
In two seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Peppers averaged 7.3 yards on punt returns, including an 8.8-yard average on 25 runbacks last year. His longest return was 33 yards. Peppers did not return a punt in the preseason.
"I just know that when my number is called I'm going to perform to the best of my ability," he said.
Latimer averaged 24.6 yards on five kickoff returns last season, when injuries limited him to six games.
*Right tackle Mike Remmers (illness/back) returned to practice today on a limited basis. Coach Pat Shurmur said he is "not concerned" about Remmers' availability for the game in Dallas.
*Tight end Garrett Dickerson (quad) and wide receiver Darius Slayton (hamstring) remain sidelined with their respective injuries.