Saquon Barkley can’t help himself.
He’s not able to be on the field with his Giants teammates during the practices at this week’s minicamp, still not quite ready to be running and cutting with them as he continues to recover from the torn ACL he suffered last September. But he is on the premises with them, going through his rehab routines on the field early in the day while the rest of the squad is in meetings and then receiving extra treatments and pushing through extra workouts while they are doing their team activities. It allows Barkley to remain close to the team, to maintain his role as a leader even though he can’t do it with the football in his hands.
It also affords him a chance to get a quick look at what the Giants have.
"Yeah, I’ve been peeking through the windows," Barkley said of stealing glimpses as the team was put through its paces.
It’s torturous. The thing he loves most is right there on the other side of the pane, yet he can’t have it. He has to sit in the cafeteria or stand in the weight room and watch. It’s not bad enough to be confined in the building, his cell comes with a clear view of the outside world.
Two things keep him going, though. The first is the knowledge that eventually he will rejoin the Giants in their physical activities. The second?
He likes what he sees.
"I’m really excited about the offensive weapons that we added and all the weapons we have, all the people we signed back," he said. "I think there is a lot of talent. We have a chance to be very special."
That’s the idea, and it has been all offseason with the Giants collecting playmakers for their passing game such as free agent Kenny Golladay and first-round pick Kadarius Toney. Each time they added one of those elements, a coach or someone from the front office would start to rattle off the list of acquisitions and the potential for points would grow larger and larger. Then, they’d always get back to Barkley. A healthy Barkley.
The expectation is he will be back for the start of the regular season (he and the team have declined to put any timetables on his return). The belief is he will be able to play at the level that made him the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018. The hope is he can reassume his place as the face of the franchise and the centerpiece of the offense.
But all of those things are still ifs. As minicamp winds up this week, as the offseason program closes next week, and as the countdown to training camp at the end of July begins to loom, Barkley remains the biggest caveat for a team that is counting on him to be back at full strength . . . or better.
Barkley said he feels that urgency, but he is grateful that the Giants are not pushing him to rush back onto the field for these essentially meaningless workouts.
"It’s getting tough because it’s getting closer and closer," he said of the start of the 2021 season in earnest. "But at the end of the day I just have to continue to stay patient . . . You want to be back as fast as you can obviously, but you have to be smart. At the end of the day I want to come back and be the best that I can be for my team, not just for a short span but for a very long time."
It’s been a long while since that’s been the case, that Barkley has been the best he can be. He was never truly himself for the second half of the 2019 season once he returned from a high ankle sprain and last year he was having a miserable statistical start to the season before his knee injury in Week 2 against the Bears on Sept. 20.
There are some moments when Barkley is on the field during his daily sessions with trainers and he senses the player he was before all of those medical obstacles.
"There are drills you do to see where you are at," he said. "There are some things I do that let me know that my rehab is going really, really well. There are some things that tell me I have to do a little more work."
Overall, Barkley said he has no fear that his return will be anything less than full and spectacular. Eventually.
"I can’t judge myself seven months after surgery," he said. "When you are climbing up a mountain you are not going to get there with just one step, it takes a lot of steps to get up there… I have to try to control the things I can control and go out there and play straight, just go out there and be '26', that big kid who loves playing football and plays with a smile on his face."