With each step now, with each cut now, with each wheel route he runs now, with each passing day now, the sight of Saquon Barkley looking more and more like Saquon Barkley, feeling more and more like Saquon Barkley, makes the hearts of Giants race and sing.
When there is a bounce in No. 26’s step, there is a bounce in every Giants’ step.
They are all sick and tired of the agony of defeat, from the owners on down, and it is a triumphant return to the playing field by Saquon Barkley nearly one year after his devastating torn ACL that will send a jolt of electricity through the entire organization.
Removed from the PUP list at last, a grueling rehab still in progress, the Giants can suddenly dream the sweet dream of getting their dawg back on the field for Week 1. And Barkley can dream now, too. “You’re definitely hopeful,” he said.
On a hopeful Monday afternoon: One small step for Saquon, one giant leap for Giantkind … eventually.
As desperate and as famished as the Giants are to make their fans proud again, to be Giants again, they will continue to err on the side of precaution and do right by their franchise running back, and no one will complain.
The Giants, common sense would tell you, aren’t interested in any fleeting Willis Reed moment of inspiration.
They’re interested in Barkley chasing the “gold jacket” career that GM Dave Gettleman envisioned when he stiff-armed the analytics crowd and made Barkley the second-overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.
It is why they must keep him in mothballs until the games begin to count … or until the designated time when Barkley no longer has to be protected from himself.
Judge was asked if he would be all right playing Barkley in a preseason game.
“Theoretically, yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I am, absolutely.”
Judge referenced his time in New England and added: “And to be honest with you, I’ve had experience with this. Look, there was a day I had to walk in and tell Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and Julian Edelman, ‘Hey, all three of you are going to play against the Giants in preseason Game 4 because you haven’t done anything competitively in training camp.’ ”
I believe that when push comes to shove, Judge will say to hell with that theory.
Rams head coach Sean McVay said a couple of days ago that there is “zero chance” his new quarterback, Marthew Stafford, will play in the preseason. Bingo!
“The thing is, before you get hit in the first game at full speed when the speed does elevate, we want to go out there and just get you used to the tempo of the game, the pace of the game. Get you a catch, get you hit, get the feel of being tackled,” Judge said. “So, am I looking to put Saquon into something that’s not going to be in his best interest? Absolutely not, but at some point the doctors say, ‘He’s ready to play,’ and if we have the opportunity to get him in at a certain point, we will. But I’m not going to press that timetable.”
Good. It would be folly to press it. Barkley is the franchise’s crown jewel, franchise face and invaluable investment, and Judge and everybody else knows it.
Barkley himself conceded that he would be comfortable for Week 1 without any preseason action. There were no preseason games in 2020, of course.
“The year before that, I don’t think I played in one,” he said. “My rookie year I played in one, had like two carries. So I wouldn’t really be worried about that if I didn’t play preseason because I know that the coaches and the training staff and the strength staff wouldn’t let me out there if I didn’t show ’em something that I’m capable of going out there and, one, keep myself safe, and also go out there and compete at a high level for my teammates.”
Judge is smart enough to simulate practices enough to prime Barkley for the real thing.
“One thing about me, I’m all for whatever’s gonna help the team win,” Barkley said. “If they feel that’s what I need to do to get myself back for whenever I’m able to come back for my team, I’m willing to do that.”
He trusts Judge and the medical men and the strength and conditioning staff implicitly. Does he think he can be ready for Game 1?
“I don’t know,” Barkley said. “Obviously you guys know how I am as a competitor. I’m pretty sure you guys know what my thought process is, but at the same time, I’m very fortunate to play for an unbelievable coach and an unbelievable organization that is actually thinking about me and thinking about the rest of my career and the longevity of my career, and don’t feel forced.”
He wore white leggings over those freakish Saquads and moved well at his customary 230 pounds. You couldn’t tell that he underwent surgery less than 10 months ago. But he’s not in football shape yet and he’s not as confident in his right knee — no brace — as he will be.
He has been champing at the bit to fight alongside his brothers. And happy to run laps and do push-ups with them as a team leader following the infamous team brawl.
“I do believe we will have a very special year,” Barkley said. “I think that’s one of the things we’re gonna be able to point back to, I’d say that really helped bring us together.”
Barkley in his blue No. 26 jersey was a sight for sore Giant eyes. He joked that he felt like a rookie again. They busted his chops. Barkley, with a big smile: “ ‘Whoa, who’s that?’ Shaking my hand, introducing themselves.”
He needs no introduction. Only the football, and not before the games start to count.