Saquon Barkley was greeted by Giants fans at training camp's debut practice on Thursday with a surprise.
Just about every time he ran through a drill, every time he touched the ball, every time he walked near the stands, he was serenaded with a chant.
“That’s the first,” Barkley said with a shy grin after the workout. “I never really heard that before.”
It probably won’t be the last. Certainly not if the second-year running back continues to improve off a dazzling rookie season that catapulted him into the top tier of players in the entire league.
It’s flattering. But is it possible? Can Barkley be the MVP of the league?
“I think anything is possible,” Barkley said. “I’m a big believer in that. But my mindset is not just that trophy. Obviously I’m not going to sit here and be like ‘I don’t want win MVP, I don’t want to win this award or that.’ But I’m a big believer that if I take care of the little things and focus on a team-first mentality, the individual awards will come.”
No running back has been named MVP since Adrian Peterson in 2012. Given the pass-first personality of the league heading into this season, it’s hard to imagine that any running back could be so important to a successful team that he’d approach that recognition.
But Barkley has already shown that he is not any running back. And given that one of the Giants’ primary offensive weapons in Odell Beckham Jr. is no longer around, Barkley figures to be handling an even larger load this season.
“I think we’ll all agree, it makes sense for him to touch the ball,” coach Pat Shurmur said.
Barkley did that 352 times last season. By the end of the year, having played all 16 games, he said he wasn’t even that tired.
“I was chillin’,” he said.
It allowed him to work hard this offseason on getting stronger, faster and more sturdy. He felt good after 16 games a year ago, this season he wants to feel good after 19 or 20.
If he can do that, if he can carry the Giants deep into the postseason, then those chants that welcomed him to the 2019 season on Thursday won’t just be a polite expression of optimism but a groundswell of support from around the league.