Paul Perkins watches. That’s all he can do these days.
So every time the Giants take the practice field in training camp he stands there observing. Every time they take the field for a home game he’s on the sideline. When they were on the road for a week in Detroit earlier this month, he kept tabs as best he could through social media updates and contact with teammates.
What he’s unable to do is participate. The running back tore his left pectoral while training during the offseason, an injury that required season-ending surgery. Season-ending-before-the-season-even-began surgery.
So he stands sentry, wearing a jersey with a number that sometimes has to be changed so players who are on the field can use his. Lately it’s been 23. Next week, who knows. Not that the number matters much. It’s just a paperwork way of identifying him, basically an employee ID. Perkins is ineligible to play this season, shunned to the injured reserve portion of the roster. He’s not getting on the field this season.
But he wants to help. And that’s why he watches.
“I think it’s my duty to be out here, to stay on the game and help the guys,” he told Newsday in his first interview since the injury that derailed his third NFL season. “Give them a different set of eyes watching the field.”
Perkins began the 2017 season as the Giants’ starting running back, but his lack of production eventually led to his losing that title and even being a healthy inactive in a few games. It was a difficult season for him. But nothing compared to this year.
“It’s very hard,” he said. “Obviously the games are hard. This is a lesson for me.”
At first he thought it was a cramp. He was bench pressing during his offseason training in Arizona when he felt a twinge in his chest. He stopped his lift, but the discomfort did not go away.
“Then,” he said, “I found out it was worse.”
It was, Perkins said, “disheartening.”
Perkins has tried hard not to have that emotion bleed into his work, which is more cerebral than physical. In meetings he dissects the X’s and O’s just as much as any of the other players. The only difference is he’s never an X or an O.
“He’s involved in absolutely everything,” fellow running back Wayne Gallman said of Perkins. “He knows the playbook just as much as we do. It’s great to have another pair of eyes.”
But they’ll have to do without his legs. At least for this year. And after that, well, the Giants are high on Gallman and drafted Saquon Barkley. There may not be much room in the backfield for Perkins when he is healthy enough to play. In fact, there’s a chance he’d have been on the roster bubble this summer had his not already burst.
“Right now I can’t even speak on next year,” Perkins said. “I’m just so focused and locked in on this year.”
Getting healthy. Staying in shape. And continuing to fulfill what he called his duty as long as the Giants allow him to.
“That’s my plan,” he said of his role to remain involved in meetings and watching practices this season. “To stick around.”