Enter rookie running back Saquon Barkley.
Barkley, who took a grand total of six snaps in the preseason, showed why the Giants selected him with the No. 2 overall pick with a 68-yard touchdown run. He swiftly blew past three defenders and ran for daylight along the right sideline for his first regular season touchdown.
Barkley finished with 106 yards on 18 carries in his regular season debut, setting a franchise record.
“It was a great run. That’s why we drafted that young man,” head coach Pat Shurmur said.
Barkley credited his teammates and coaches for the run.
“Yeah, that touchdown run was a great call, first of all, and it was blocked up perfect,” Barkley said. “The o-line did a great job on the front side creating movement, (tight end) Evan (Engram) did a great job on the backside with a cut block, and I was able to get one-on-one with the guy and make him miss and use my speed on the sideline to get in the end zone.”
Barkley’s prowess was not lost on his opponents Sunday although they did a good job of keeping him in check before the touchdown run. Linebacker Myles Jack said he was “shook out of his socks” on the play. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell also saw something.
“I mean, I knew right away. The first run and the first couple of times I tackled him, I said, ‘This kid has something’,” Campbell said. “Obviously, you see it on tape, but we didn’t get to watch a lot of tape on him. It’s his college tape. Coming into the NFL against a team like ours, and making some of the plays he made, that kid’s going to be special.”
Safety Barry Church also sang Barkley’s praises…and big upped his own squad as well.
“He’s a special player now,” Church said. “That guy’s a lot faster than I thought he was. He’s going to be a problem in the league for a while. Hat goes off to our D-line. We pretty much bottled him the whole game except for that one explosive one. Other than that, I think we did a good job.”
Barkley had difficulty getting it going against one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses. In the first half, he had 12 yards on eight carries with a dropped pass. Jacksonville were attacking him before he reached the line of scrimmage. As the game went on, he settled down and improved. He had a key reception on the final play of the third quarter when he gained 18 yards on a screen pass.
The presence of Barkley combined with the big play ability of Odell Beckham Jr. (who had 111 yards on 11 receptions in his return) is cause for hope despite the fact the offense as a whole could have played better.
“I told him this multiple times, I’ve had dreams of seeing Barkley running down the field, breaking for the end zone,” Beckham said. “I went to a school, LSU, where I watched Jeremy Hill come out the backfield multiple times. There is no better feeling than running the ball and somebody takes it 60, or however long it was to the house. The only thing I ever told him was be you. You don’t have to do anything for anybody else, any outside pressure, anything anybody said, you don’t have to be that, just be you.”
Barkley talked about how he approached his first regular season game.
“Your mindset changes just throughout the game because you get a feel for it,” Barkley said. “You get a feel for the O-line, you get a feel for what their defense is doing, how they’re attacking you and how they’re playing you and it’s kind of just repetition and play-by-play. I feel like personally, as I continue to go out this season, it’s a long season and I continue to get reps, I’m only going to continue to get better.”
The Giants faced Jacksonville, a team that made it to the AFC Championship Game a season ago, in the opener. Next week, Barkley gets his first taste of a division rival when the Giants travel to face the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys’ defense is nowhere the level of Jacksonville’s so it’s possible Barkley could improve his numbers next Sunday night.
In the meantime, Campbell got his ducks in a row as far as having Barkley memorabilia.
“I traded jerseys with him after the game,” Campbell said. “Because I was like, ‘OK, if he can stay healthy, he might one day be a Hall of Famer.’ So, now, I’ll get his jersey when he’s young.”
– Curtis Rawls is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage and covers the NFL, the New York Giants, and the NBA. Please like and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Twitter. Curtis can be followed on Twitter @CuRawls203.