Saquon Barkley, the healthiest he has been in about three years, in an offense that is utilizing his skill set, playing behind an offensive line that can create holes for him, has added a new wrinkle to his preseason look.
“I’m definitely smiling more,” the running back said, demonstrating that megawatt display of happiness that had nearly been drained from his repertoire by all of the injuries and losing he has gone through during his tenure with the Giants.
Know who else must be grinning about Barkley’s training camp thus far?
As the quarterback enters a make-or-break year, the final one on his rookie contract, he is poised to go into the regular season with something he has never quite been able to utilize at any point during his career: a fully healthy, fully loaded, fully deployed Barkley.
“It’s been fun to watch him work,” Jones said. “He brings a lot to our offense from obviously running the ball to using him in space to make plays. He’s an explosive player, a smart player and a guy that works really hard. From a quarterback’s perspective, that’s always fun to work with.”
Yes, grin away.
But while Jones and Barkley have been teammates entering their fourth year now, they have never quite been able to mesh on the field. Jones’ first start in Week 3 of the 2019 season was the very same game in which Barkley suffered the first of what would become a series of serious injuries, a high ankle sprain. He was never quite the same player that entire season.
The following year, Barkley tore his ACL in Week 2, and 2020 was kaput.
Last summer Barkley wasn’t even practicing at this point in training camp, and it took a few weeks for him to start to look something akin to himself. That flashed in one game against the Saints, but the following week, he rolled his ankle. By the time Barkley was somewhat recovered from that, Jones was sidelined with a neck injury for the final six games of the season.
Drafted in the first round in back-to-back years, Jones and Barkley were supposed to be a Dynamic Duo for the Giants. So far they have been a dud. Most of that is because their roles have been swapped.
When the Giants selected Jones, they didn’t see him as a future superstar and they didn’t need him to be one because that role was supposed to be played by the running back lined up behind or beside him. When Barkley’s play fizzled because of the injures, it left Jones as something he was never supposed to be: the team’s best offensive player.
Now, though, Barkley seems poised to reclaim that crown. Jones spent the last few weeks feeding the ball to Barkley in practices and getting the kind of results that one might have expected when Barkley entered the NFL from college. Jones and Barkley trained together in the offseason, too, with the running back showing up at unofficial passing camps to work with receivers and create more timing with the quarterback.
“We’ve been training a lot together,” Jones said. “Given how dedicated he is to making sure he’s ready to roll come this time of year, I haven’t been surprised by how he’s looked to start camp. I’m excited to work with him.”
The real him.
“He looks explosive,” coach Brian Daboll said. “You know, he hit one [run] yesterday and got out into the open field. I don’t know what his GPS numbers were, but it was high. He was moving pretty good. He’s explosive. He’s quick. He’s strong. He looks good to me.”
It may be too late to salvage the promise they brought when drafted, at least in the long term. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which both Jones and Barkley are back with the Giants in 2023 even if they play together at All-Pro levels. There seems to be a decent chance neither will be back, depending on how the season works out. Those smiles they are sharing now might become tears next offseason.
If that’s going to be the case, Barkley wants to show what he and Jones can accomplish in this final effort. He wants to do something he has never quite been able to do in the past three years: Become an asset for Jones and help him lift his game, as opposed to the other way around.
“I know what I can be,” he said. “If I’m able to go out there and do the things that I’m capable of doing, it’s going to make life a lot easier not only on Daniel but I feel like on everyone.”