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Saquon Barkley and the catch that got away

One play so far stands out for Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley -- the one he didn’t make.

Giants running back Saquon Barkley participates in OTAs

Giants running back Saquon Barkley participates in OTAs on May 29, 2018. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Saquon Barkley has run hundreds if not thousands of plays this spring since joining the Giants. There is one that sticks out to him, though, and he is able to recall it with tremendous detail.

“It was an angle route,” he said, contorting his body to illustrate his movements and placing his hands near his right hip. “Threw it back. Caught it right here. I went like this.”

He even said he remembered the name of the play — but refused to divulge it.

So what made that one rep so special that it stood out among all the others?

That the ball wound up on the ground.

It was, he said, the only pass thrown his way that he has dropped during the offseason training program with the Giants. That includes rookie minicamp, the first few workouts with the veterans, 10 OTA practices, and this week’s mandatory minicamp.

“I looked up before I tried to catch it, before I secured the catch,” he lamented on Wednesday, after the second practice of the three-day minicamp. “I looked up trying to score instead of locking in.”

It’s a percentage the Giants will live with given just how many footballs have been flung at their rookie running back in the past month. But for Barkley, it’s borderline unacceptable.

“That’s something that I pride myself on,” he said. “You come out every single day and you want to be perfect. I don’t mean a perfect player, but you want to go through practice without drops or M.A.s [missed assignments]. But sometimes it reassures you that you have to get back to doing the Juggs [machine], catching after practice. It was a ball that I’ve caught hundreds of times and I tried to run up field too quick instead of securing the catch. I worked on that after and it hasn’t happened since.

“I hate making mistakes, but I love making mistakes,” he continued. “I love having an occasional drop because it makes you get back on your grind and lock in a little more.”

It’s hard to believe given the hoopla surrounding him, but as a rookie, Barkley does make mistakes. That’s part of the learning process as he transitions from the college game he dominated to the NFL.

“He’s still a rookie and he’s still got things to learn, not just what is on paper and this is your job on this play, but all of the little adjustments you are going to make,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “He has to learn that you still have your foundation and what you’re doing and then just to make those little adjustments.”

The veterans call that “playing above the Xs and Os, the subtleties that are the difference between very good and great. They can take years to master.

Barkley is embracing that challenge. He said he has a good grasp of the playbook at this point in his tender career, now he’s working on the nuance.

“Something I’ve learned and [veteran teammate Jonathan Stewart] has been teaching me about is how to set up your blocks,” Barkley said. “For me, I did it so naturally in college that I didn’t even notice I was doing it. Now, understanding how to see the play before it develops and seeing the linebackers overflowing, that’s how you set up cutback lanes. . . . That’s what it takes to be a good back in the NFL.”

Barkley said he was watching film of Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell do just that on Wednesday morning. They are lessons he’ll bring with him onto the field for the remainder of this minicamp, and then into training camp in July, and into the season in September.

He may not get it right all the time, but that’s OK Those are the ones he’ll remember.

New York Sports