EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley would welcome the opportunity to carry the ball in a preseason game this month, but whether Pat Shurmur will let him remains a mystery.
The reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year did not play in the Giants’ 31-22 victory against the Jets on Thursday. The Giants return to action Friday night at home against the Chicago Bears before concluding their preseason schedule with games at Cincinnati and New England. Shurmur will not say if Barkley will advance from spectator to participant in any or all of the games. It’s possible Barkley can get all the prep work he needs for the regular season on the practice field.
“He’s getting a heck of a lot of reps here in practice,” Shurmur said. “I have a plan moving forward, and I said it with the quarterbacks last time, I’ll let it reveal itself. I think we’ll just have to see. We’ll just have to see as we move forward.”
Shurmur might well conclude the risk of injury is too great to give the ball to Barkley in a game that doesn’t count in the standings. Barkley certainly understands, but anyone who enjoys playing as much as he would prefer to be on the field.
“If you know anything about me, or if you ask my teammates, I love the game of football,” Barkley said. “Any opportunity that you get to play. Every single day, we stop and we mention, especially in the RB group, how big of a blessing it is to come out here and play the sport that you love. I know I talk about that with Paul Perkins - Paul Perkins missed the whole season last year. There is going to come a time where you miss a game, you miss that preseason game, and you miss the grind of the camp. Every opportunity that you get, why not take advantage of it?”
Because few things are harder for a coach to accept than losing a key player in a preseason game.
If Barkley does not play in the preseason, the experience he had last year suggests it will have no effect on him when the Giants open their regular season in Dallas on Sept. 8. In 2018, Barkley played the first two series plus one play in the preseason opener against Cleveland. He carried five times for 43 yards and then did not step on the field again until the regular season began.
Barkley was asked today if he will feel he is ready to play in the regular season if he is inactive for all four preseason games.
“That’s a great question,” he said. “I think everyone’s different. For me personally, this day last year, or yesterday, I strained my hamstring or whatever you want to call it, so I missed the rest of preseason. When I played the first week of the season and played the season last year, I didn’t feel like I was out of shape, I didn’t feel like I needed more reps. I think we do a really good job with taking live competitive reps here, even though we don’t tackle to the ground. We have a really great defense that gives me a really good look.
“Do I think I need it? I think it depends on the player. Every year is different. Am I ready if I have to? Yes, my mindset every week is to prepare to get ready to go out there and compete at a high level for my team, no matter if it’s one snap, two series, one quarter or if I don’t play. If I don’t play, I stay locked in and try to be the leader that I can to keep the energy and the vibes good on the sideline.”
During the victory against the Jets, Barkley was very much into the game without being in the game. He was exhorting his teammates, congratulating anyone who scored or made a big play, and seemed to get in as many steps as he would if he was taking handoffs.
“I am going to continue to learn from it even though I’m not on the field,” he said. “I just try to stay as locked in as I can, stay excited, get the sideline pumped, and it’s fun to see a lot of the guys who have worked (hard). Especially the younger guys, and I say younger guys even though they might be older than me, to see how hard they worked to get to this spot, to play their dream, and to see them go out there and play some games and make some plays is awesome.”
Giants fans eager to see Barkley make plays might just have to wait until Sept. 8.
*The Giants confirmed today that rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker, a first-round draft choice, sprained his left knee in practice yesterday. Barker underwent further evaluation this morning by team physician Dr. Scott Rodeo at Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Rodeo confirmed the sprain. Baker’s status is day to day.
“It’s a big relief, certainly,” Shurmur said. “He’s been coming along real well, and to know that it’s not serious at this point is good. … We’ll see moving forward how much he can do and if we can get him ready to play.”
Baker has been the first-team left cornerback since the spring drills.
“He’s been very good,” Shurmur said. “I think he’s progressed extremely well. He had some good plays in the game the other night. We’ll get him out there as soon as we can and keep him going.”
The question now is how the absence will affect Baker’s readiness for the season.
“It’s never good when anybody misses practice time,” Shurmur said. “But we have some time left before the game against Dallas, the opener. We’ll just see where he is. Again, he’s day-to-day. DeAndre is a tough, competitive guy. I anticipate that he’ll be back out there soon.”
*Rookie wide receiver Darius Slayton practiced fully for the first time since training camp opened. He has been sidelined with a hamstring injury suffered on the first day of rookie camp three weeks ago. The Giants are hopeful the fifth-round draft choice from Auburn can become a deep threat. Shurmur said Slayton can “absolutely” make an impact at the beginning of the season
“He’s made good progress,” Shurmur said. “He’s been out there the last couple of days, which is good. We’ll just see where he is with this (week’s) game moving forward. He’s got plenty of time in my mind.”
*Wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo tore his Achilles tendon in practice today. Etta-Tawo did not play vs. the Jets because of a strained hamstring.