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There have been many faces of Saquon Barkley the past three years.
Frustrated Saquon. Anguished Saquon. Depressed Saquon. Confused Saquon.
This is a real person, not an emoji, and these faces have genuine emotions attached to them.
On Wednesday, the second day of a voluntary three-day minicamp for the Giants, there was another side that Barkley revealed. Call it Steely-eyed Saquon. Better yet: Defiant Saquon.
“My mindset from just the last two years, to be honest. I kind of just want to kill, go crazy,’’ Barkley said. “I don’t want to jump the gun. It’s a long way before September and the start of the regular season.
“To be honest, I’m just tired of whatever is written about me, the BS that’s said about me or this team. I want to go out there and prove to this organization that the player they drafted is still there, I can still do special things with the ball in my hands, and I can help this team.’’
It was a previous front office regime that made Barkley the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Despite what anyone thinks about positional value and taking a running back so high, there was no denying Barkley’s talent and production in his NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year debut. That’s when he ran for 1,307 yards, caught 91 passes and scored 15 total touchdowns.
He has not come close to soaring that high since, nor has he again gone through a season playing every game. He dealt with a sprained ankle in 2019 and his numbers dipped to 1,003 rushing yards, 52 receptions and eight touchdowns. He tore his ACL in Week 2 in 2020 and after a demanding rehab he played in 13 games in 2021, but the results were not there: 593 yards, 41 receptions and four touchdowns. Just as he was finally putting the knee injury behind him, a sprained ankle sent him to the sideline.
The offensive line was brutal. The quarterback play was shabby and the offensive system and play-calling was lacking. All these failings could not completely overshadow the eye-test with Barkley, revealing he was rarely the dynamic player on display three years ago.
There is a new front office and coaching staff in place and Barkley is entering the final year of his contract, set to make $7.2 million this season. Joe Schoen, the new general manager, said at the scouting combine last month he would be “open to everything’’ when asked about the possibility of trading Barkley. When this in some circles was construed as the Giants looking to deal away Barkley, Schoen caught wind of this and he called Barkley to state he is not being shopped around the league.
“I appreciated the call,’’ Barkley said. “He just wanted to get off on the right foot. I wasn’t really worried about it anyway.’’
New Giants coach Brian Daboll also called to make sure Barkley knew the truth.
An entirely new offense installed by Daboll should highlight what Barkley does well, which is practically everything, when he is right. In a 7-on-7 drill in bright sunshine and a stiff wind on Wednesday, Barkley got behind the defense on the right sideline and hauled in a long touchdown pass. When he trotted back to the middle of the field, Daboll was there to give him a high-five.
“He’s elusive, quick, he’s fast,’’ Daboll said. “We’re going to ask him to do some things out here, get a feel for him. I think he’s a very talented player. He’s a really good person. He’s a good young man. You can tell it’s important to him. He has worked hard. As much as he can handle, that’s what we’ll give him.’’
Barkley said he feels as if “I’ve got a lot to prove’’ and added there are several players on offense who have much to prove. He spent an offseason honing his body, rather than rehabbing his knee, and said he added “new things to keep me healthy,’’ mentioning increased mobility and stability as part of his plan.
“It’s not just the now,’’ he said. “I want to play this game for a long time. I don’t want to have a short career. That comes with taking care of your body. That’s really the biggest difference I’m doing, training hard and pushing my body, but also training smart.’’
“I definitely feel a lot different, a lot better,’’ he said. “I feel like myself again.’’