Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants celebrates his...

Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants celebrates his touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sep. 26, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It took probably twice as long as the Giants thought it would, but Saquon Barkley was back at practice on Monday, showing no indications that he’ll be forced to miss a fifth straight game because of the ankle sprain he suffered on Oct. 10 in Dallas.

"It was awesome just to have his presence out there, even in the huddle," tight end Evan Engram said of the long-awaited return of the running back to team activities. "He’s probably our biggest leader, our biggest captain. It’s good to have him back."

This is the second time this season the Giants have felt that kind of lift. The first came in the summer when Barkley began joining the offense for plays in his return from an ACL tear he suffered last season. He was just about rounding into full strength from that injury when he jumped to try to catch a pass against the Cowboys and landed on the foot of cornerback Jourdan Lewis.

Initial indications were that Barkley would need just a week or two to recover from that malady, which is why the Giants did not place him on injured reserve and shelve him for three weeks. But the ankle healed more slowly than anticipated and Barkley lost time in his rehab two weeks ago when he was swept up in the team’s COVID-19 testing fiasco.

He might have been able to come close to playing in Week 9 against the Raiders had he not been flagged with what turned out to be a false positive and spent two days in isolation. Instead, he sat out yet another contest.

"He lost a lot that week not having the availability with the COVID stuff," Joe Judge said Monday. "That set him back a little bit. I wouldn’t say set him back physically, but in terms of his timetable and not having him ready for that game."

Now, with the bye week over and the Giants ready to mount a charge in the second half of the season, Barkley appears to be ready to rejoin the on-field ranks.

On Monday, he participated in drills, looking fast and spry. After that, he ran through some plays with the offense. He had not been able to do any of that since his ankle injury.

Judge extolled Barkley’s leadership during this most recent convalescence, calling him "an impact player for us on and off the field."

"He’s continued to be a leader for us through this process," Judge said. "I’m not going to speak for any player in terms of their mood or whatever, but you know for any player who’s competitive to get out there, it can be tough as you make a lot of strides to get back and then feel that you’re uninvolved for a little while. For us, it’s been keeping him involved mentally while physically trying to get him back out there on the field."

That happened in practice Monday.

Assuming there are no setbacks, it should be the case when the Giants play in Tampa Bay on Monday night.

Notes & quotes: Not all of the injured players made as large a leap as Barkley during the bye. LT Andrew Thomas, who is on IR with an ankle injury but eligible to return this week, was still working on the side with trainers. WR Sterling Shepard (quadriceps) and LB Lorenzo Carter (ankle) also were in that group of non-participants . . . Rookie running back Gary Brightwell was activated off reserve/ COVID-19 and running backs coach Burton Burns, who also tested positive two weeks ago, returned to the team. Judge said every coach, player and staff member had to test upon re-entry from the bye week and that there were no positives.

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