It took nearly a year for Wayne Gallman to come to grips with being Saquon Barkley’s backup, for him to learn how to get the most out of just a handful of reps and understand his role on a team with a superstar at his position. Life in the shadow of Saquon can be pretty desolate.
But the third-year running back never lost confidence in himself or his abilities during that time as the understudy. That’s why, now that Barkley's high ankle sprain will sideline him for at least the next few weeks, Gallman is undaunted by the prospect of being asked to replace a Pro Bowler who many believe is the best running back in the NFL.
In his mind, he’s not filling in for anyone. He’s just reclaiming the spot he thought was his before the Giants drafted Barkley.
“I don’t worry about all that,” he said of the inevitable comparisons that will be made between Barkley and himself. “I’m me, and you guys are going to see that.”
The Giants certainly seem confident Gallman will be able to perform. He’s the only healthy running back on the roster and while they held workouts for free agents earlier this week they didn’t sign anyone. They’re likely to promote Jon Hilliman from the practice squad before Sunday’s game against Washington, and there is a chance that fullback Eli Penny might get a few more carries than usual, especially in short-yardage situations. But the team has essentially put all of the duties of the position on Gallman.
“We just keep going,” Pat Shurmur said. “We put Wayne Gallman in there, then we get ready to go and get the offense ready to play. That’s the reality in this league. It’s not cliché, it’s not coachspeak. But it really is next man up. You don’t cancel the games because one of your guys is not there.”
Barkley was in Wisconsin on Wednesday getting a second opinion on his ankle. The Giants were practicing in New Jersey on Wednesday with their second option at running back.
The hope was for both of those events to pass without any surprise disappointments.
For most of the world, Gallman is a mystery, just a name on the roster. He’s the guy who looks good in the preseason. He’s started just two games in his two full seasons with the Giants and has had just seven carries in the first three games this year. Shurmur said he is a “twitchy guy” who has improved his catching ability and pass protection.
“He’s a good all-around player, and he’s going to be asked to do more,” Shurmur said.
Penny, the fullback, said blocking for Gallman is a bit different than blocking for Barkley. He said Gallman is more of a traditional one-cut back than the improvisational Barkley.
Coming into last season Gallman said he was certain he would become the Giants’ featured back. Then they drafted Barkley and Gallman had to adjust his mentality. It wasn’t fun, but he eventually embraced his new spot in the hierarchy.
Part of that adjustment was remaining prepared for a larger role if he was ever needed.
“I knew at some point he could get hurt and I always have to be ready,” Gallman said of Barkley. “I view it as a big opportunity, an opportunity I haven’t had since I came into the league. It’s unfortunate for my brother to go out, but this is what I’ve prepared for, so I’m ready for it.”
Redskins coach Jay Gruden seems to believe that the Giants will be less dangerous without Barkley.
“Gallman is a good player,” Gruden said. “I think he’ll probably lose some of the splash plays. When Saquon gets out in space, it’s a wrap. In the case of Gallman, who knows, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Waiting is exactly what Gallman has been doing most of his career. Now, he’s excited to finally be seen and demonstrate abilities that might not quite measure up to Barkley’s — who can, really? — but are enough to help the Giants' offense function without its best player.
“Hopefully I can show you that,” Gallman said with a large smile. “I’m not going to talk too much about it. I know I can do whatever is needed to help this offense win.”