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Wayne Gallman Jr. embraces role as Giants' backup running back

Wayne Gallman Jr. is preparing for a second season as the second running back.

It’s a role that took a while for him to embrace and become accustomed to a year ago.

Gallman finished his promising rookie season in 2017 and went into that offseason thinking he had a legitimate chance to earn the starting job the following year. That was his focus from January through April. And then, with the second pick in the 2018 draft, the Giants selected Saquon Barkley. And that was that.

It was, Gallman told Newsday this week, a jarring and staggering change. One that took many months for him to come to grips with.

“It was like ‘Nah, nah, Saquon’s gonna start,’ ” Gallman said of the abrupt change in his job description with the Giants.

Gallman said all the right things about Barkley’s arrival in last summer’s training camp, even if he didn’t necessarily believe them. Even if he was still shaken by what it meant to him and his own career. Even if he wasn’t quite sure what was expected of him and how he should respond to his new directives.

“I was dealing with a lot of mental emotions,” Gallman said. “Once I gathered all of those and learned how to control all of that, I was ready. Second half of the season, going in there when I needed to, I was ready. My mindset was ready. But before that, my mind wasn’t always in the right place.”

Being Barkley’s backup is one of the more thankless jobs on the Giants roster. Barkley had 351 touches last season and figures to have even more this season. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for snaps for the No. 2. And when that backup does enter the game, it’s almost impossible to live up to the productivity and flexibility that Barkley brings to the offense. That doesn’t even take into account the almost audible groan of disappointment from fans whenever Barkley is on the sideline. It’s life in the shadows of one of the biggest stars in the NFL.

This year, at least, Gallman has a better idea of what it will entail.

“You’re always wanting to make a big play, but when you have all these other mental things going on in your head, you’re not fully focused,” he said. “But I’ve conquered that. Now I’m in a way better place and I know what this role is going to be.”

The Giants added another running back this offseason who knows what it’s like to play behind a superstar. Rod Smith spent the last few years with the Cowboys as a backup for Ezekiel Elliott. He signed with the Giants in the spring. That gives the Giants two experienced backs behind Barkley who understand what is expected of that understudy position.

And there is always a chance they’ll be pressed into action. Being ready to spring off the bench at a moment’s notice and keep the offense humming along is a skill that requires a different level of preparation and professionalism.

Gallman wasn’t really surprised by his struggles to come to grips with that last season.

“I know myself enough,” he said. “I’ve always been one to think a lot. It was also part of a growing process. We’re all young. We’re growing into young men, so we always have those stages that we go through in life where we have to figure out things and learn things. It’s just one of those things.”

That’s not to say Gallman is content with being a career backup. He wants to be a starter, even if that means going somewhere else to do it after his time behind Barkley is over. He’s got one more season left on his rookie contract with the Giants, and at that time he’ll be a free agent. If he can show enough to teams in the smattering of snaps he gets in the regular season – and in the larger bulk of plays he’s sure to receive in the preseason – then maybe someone will sign him and he can go back to having a realistic chance at starting. As long as Barkley is with the Giants, and healthy, that won’t be an option here.

In the meantime, though, Gallman seems intent on making the best of his current situation.

“Saquon and I, we have tons of conversations,” Gallman said. “There’s an understanding. It’s about what’s best for the team to win a championship… It doesn’t matter if Saquon carried the ball 25 times and I carried it two, as long as we win the championship. It’s all about team. You can’t be selfish and think about yourself and get down on yourself because you’re not the starter or you aren’t getting enough carries. You can’t think about that. This is a business, it’s the NFL. You have to take what’s given to you.”

And deal with what is taken away from you.

“I’m in a good place now,” Gallman said. “A very good place.”

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