Saquon Barkley was one of the first people to reach out to Breece Hall when the Jets rookie running back tore his ACL.
It wasn’t because they play the same position. Not because they play in the same town. Not even because Barkley suffered a similar injury two years before Hall.
“It was because I’m a fan of his,” Barkley told Newsday of the main impetus on Thursday.
A year later, and now days before they will both be on the same field for the first time in a regular season game, Barkley — who can probably appreciate what Hall has gone through to get back on the field more than anyone — remains one.
“He’s a young talented back and I’m happy with the way he has been able to respond, rebound, and get back right, get back on the right track, after that injury,” Barkley said. “He looks great.”
Hall told Newsday that he received quite a few calls and texts from folks around the league in the days following his diagnosis. Some were encouraging, others offered advice. Barkley’s, he said, was both. It touched him. And it stood out because Hall had been watching Barkley’s career with the Giants from his Rookie of the Year season to the return from his torn ACL which he suffered in 2020.
“Obviously I kept up on him a little because he’s a great player and everything,” Hall said. “He was talking to me about some stuff. Real good dude, gave me some great advice.”
Barkley’s wisest, most-prescient tidbit?
“Just that he told me it’s gonna be tough, you’re gonna have good days and bad days, but you have to keep working hard through everything,” Hall said.
Hall has shown relatively few effects from his injury other than a role that was limited to specific snap counts early in the season. He’s scored a touchdown in each of the last two games for the Jets and has two of the three longest runs in the NFL this season at 83 and 72 yards. He is averaging 6.5 yards per carry, which is actually better than the 5.8 he was averaging last year before his injury.
The Giants defense has been squirming all week watching film of Hall’s exploits this season knowing they’ll have to figure out a way to stop him.
“The biggest challenge we’re going to have is that running back because he’s special,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “You can tell that he’s really come back from his injury. He’s one step and gone. We need all 11 to get to him.”
Barkley, however, said he’s not at all surprised at how quickly Hall has returned to that form.
He pointed out that he, too, felt he was “back” early in his first year returning from ACL reconstruction. In Week 3 of 2021 he had a touchdown and 94 all-purpose yards (plus a 20-yard screen play that was called back by a penalty). In Week 4 he scored twice against the Saints with 126 all-purpose yards in an overtime win.
The next week in Dallas he suffered a high ankle sprain when he stepped on the foot of Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis and was never quite the same the rest of that season.
“The ankle is what really set me back,” he said.
It’s why the advice he now gives to Hall he delivers with a wry smile.
“Just don’t step on anyone’s foot, that would be the best thing.”
Other than that, Barkley said Hall seems to have everything under control.
“He’s playing well and he looks great,” Barkley said. “It’s a blessing in disguise how much stronger that knee actually becomes because of all the rehab and all the work that you do and the doctors you work with. He’s doing all the right things, I would imagine. Just continue to stick to the script, continue to rehab.”
Barkley, by the way, isn’t doing too badly himself. He ran for a career-high 1,312 yards to help lead the Giants to the playoffs last season and since coming back from another ankle injury earlier this year he’s rushed for 170 yards and caught seven passes for 46 yards and a touchdown in the last two games.
They aren’t great friends who go out to dinners and vacation together or anything like that — Hall described their relationship as “mutually cool” — but there was palpable respect that flowed between them when they spoke of each other from their respective locker rooms this week.
“He looks amazing,” Barkley said, “and I’m really happy for him.”
“I just know whenever I want to talk he’s going to be there,” Hall said. “That’s cool.”
Barkley and Hall will be competing against each other on Sunday, both as the centerpieces of otherwise struggling offenses. They’ll be striving for what will be a significant win for one of their teams.
They’ll also be watching to see what the other is up to because they share a bond and scars and can empathize with each other on a level that few players can understand.
And because that’s what fans do.