Since Saquon Barkley was selected by the New York Giants with the second overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, the former Penn State running back has been getting an education on what it takes to be a professional football player.
On the field, Barkley impressed during the team’s rookie mini-camp and organized team activities (OTAs). He is a physical, explosive runner with elite speed and the ability to be an outstanding receiver out of the backfield.
“He hasn’t disappointed us one bit. We have high expectations for all of our rookies, especially Saquon,” head coach Pat Shurmur said on Tuesday. “He has been out there running the ball well and is catching it well. He did a nice job in pass protection. He is doing all the things now that we need him to do to trust him out on the field next fall. He has done a good job.”
The Giants hope that Barkley along with new starters on the offensive line will help rejuvenate a rushing offense that has ranked towards to the bottom of league rankings for the past two seasons.
“You need to run the football for your offense, obviously, but also for your team,” Shurmur said. “We practice runs as much as we practice passing the ball. You just can’t do it in the physical setting that you do when you have pads on. You practice it because it is part of your DNA. Whatever you plan to do on Sundays in the fall, you have to practice. We practice running the football and how we are going to run the ball. We practice it all the time.”
Barkley is not only soaking up the wisdom from the Giants’ coaching staff but he also reached to a former Giants running back who knows a thing or two about playing Sunday afternoons at the Meadowlands. Tiki Barber is the Giants’ all-time leader in rushing yards (10,449) and attempts (2,217) and the last Giants running back to earn a Pro Bowl selection (2006). His 55 rushing touchdowns are second only to Brandon Jacobs’ 60.
Barber had dinner with Barkley, his family, and members of his Roc Nation team earlier in the week. He had two specific pieces of advice for Barkley.
“First thing I told him is learn as much as you can. The smarter you are, the easier it becomes for you not to think,” Barber said. “These days these kids are already ahead of that. They’re thinking about the X’s and O’s deeper than I ever did coming out of school and it was a learning process when I got to the league. So that was one.
“The other one was to block out the noise. Don’t worry about your critics.”
When Barber entered the league, he relied on veteran running backs such as Ottis Anderson, Joe Morris, and the late Frank Gifford to help him. Barkley will also have an opportunity to lean on the players who came before him for support…such as Jacobs, who also has some advice to offer.
“Stay focused. Stay out of the streets. Be really careful who you let close to you,” Jacobs said. “That’s the only advice I have for him. The football will come natural.”