Optimum Customers: Your Newsday access has been extended until Oct 1st. Enroll now to continue your access.

LEARN MORE
TODAY'S PAPER
60° Good Morning
60° Good Morning
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Saquon Barkley has a good head on his shoulder pads

The Giants’ much-hyped No. 1 pick already is proving to be a keen observer and eager learner.

Giants running back Saquon Barkley talks to the

Giants running back Saquon Barkley talks to the media during training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, NJ, on Friday. Photo Credit: Brad Penner

While the Jets awaited the arrival this week of their shiny new star, Sam Darnold — a quiet man even when present — Giants fans at the first practice of training camp vocally welcomed theirs.

It sounded something like this: “Saquon! Saquon! Saquon!” And it was accompanied by many replica No. 26 jerseys.

Saquon Barkley said he never practiced in front of a crowd like that before and pronounced it “awesome . . . just for them being out there showing love and support, it means a lot to me.”

But all of that was outside the lines Thursday.

Inside them, even though the man of the hour waved to his adoring public at times, it was all business and he was all rookie — just a new guy named Barkley hoping to fit in.

“If you aren’t busy and you have a chance to acknowledge them, I think you should,” he said. “But when you’re in a drill and focused, you should be focused on football.”

That was the theme struck by Barkley and his coach, Pat Shurmur, on Friday before a practice that was moved indoors (and thus away from the view of fans) because of dangerous weather.

Asked if he expects to treat the running back drafted second overall like a rookie, Shurmur said: “He’s going to be treated like a Giant. I’m not trying to be funny. Actually, I don’t think I’m ever funny.”

Barkley can be, but he handled the rookie question in a similar vein, saying: “I feel like being treated like a rookie is being treated like a teammate here. Everyone gets treated the same. Obviously, the rookies have to prove themselves, but just expect the same from me.”

Rookie hazing is not what it used to be, but if a veteran asks Barkley to carry his pads after practice, he said, “If I’ve got to do this or they tell me to do that, take it on the chin and do it.”

Barkley will walk a fine line as he balances the possibilities of “Saquon Inc.” with the reality that he must perform to realize his star potential.

The good news is that he has people around him who have been there before, including Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., who approached the challenge from far different directions.

Barkley figures to land somewhere in the middle on the Manning-Beckham continuum. But the Giants just want him to keep his eyes focused and looking downfield while he is at work.

Team president John Mara, whose familiarity with hyped Giants rookies dates to before Barkley’s parents were born, has admitted being nervous about the level of early attention.

He said it reminded him of the first training camp for No. 2 overall pick Lawrence Taylor in 1981, “but maybe not quite this much.” Yikes.

So far, so good. Barkley already is proving to be a keen observer and eager learner.

Rookies forever have noted that the biggest difference between college and the NFL is the speed. But Barkley said the difference is not so much physical speed as mental speed that allows for quicker, surer decisions.

“A lot of people mistake [physical speed] with just the information the defense takes in, just how smart defensive players are in the NFL,” he said.

Barkley said he has been asking plenty of questions, including of Manning, who has asked them right back.

“I know I’m probably a little annoying to him,” Barkley said. “I do ask him a lot of questions, but he also has been challenging me and asking me questions. If we’re not on the field, he will just call me aside and be like, ‘What do you do in this scenario?’ ”

Barkley added that Manning is “actually hilarious. He’s actually funny. That’s something that I didn’t really [think] he would be coming into this team, but being able to spend some time around him, he definitely is a character.”

For now, Barkley knows that being a character is best left to the older guys. Showing character is what smart rookies do.

New York Sports

Important message for Optimum customers

Your Newsday digital access is changing as of 10/1

You recently received an email from Optimum’s parent company, Altice USA, informing you that Altice will no longer offer free Newsday digital access with Optimum's online service. Through an exclusive trial offer for Optimum customers, Newsday is pleased to extend your digital access at no cost until the end of the year.

I understand, no thanks