The Giants won’t say whether Saquon Barkley will play on Sunday. Wink, wink.
But they are comfortable saying that if he does, there will be no half-measures to his return. He won’t be taking baby steps back onto the field and into the running back rotation. There will not be a pitch count or a leash on the team’s best player.
It will be all or nothing.
And it looks as if it will be all.
“No doubt in my mind,” Barkley said on Thursday when asked if his ankle is strong enough to handle the kind of workloads he put in before his injury almost a month ago. It was about the only thing he was willing to be certain of despite a second straight day of full participation in practice and every indication that he will be on the field against the Cardinals.
“Well, it’s the middle of October, and we’re playing ball,” Pat Shurmur said of Barkley’s potential snaps. “We’ll just see how that plays out. But players that are deemed healthy, you try to use them to the best of their ability and maximize what they can do to help impact the game.”
To put it another way, offensive coordinator Mike Shula said: “If he’s ready to play, we just treat it like he’s ready to go . . . If we had any hesitation at all, we wouldn’t have him out there.”
Barkley played along with the charade, smiling each time he was asked if he will play on Sunday. “Just taking it day to day,” he said several times.
But he also knows that Sunday is the day when he most likely will return from the high ankle sprain he suffered at Tampa Bay. It’s the day he’s envisioned during all of those early-morning treatments in the trainer’s room, all of those practices he watched from the sideline, all of those games in which he was unable to help, and perhaps the greatest indignity of the entire episode, watching the Giants play the Patriots on television last Thursday night.
“It’s going to be more appreciation,” he said of his emotions when he does return. “When you get the game taken away from you — don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not a season-ending injury, it’s an injury that took me out for a couple of weeks — but when you are passionate about this game and have to watch your teammates go out there and you have to be in the box looking down and you can’t really do much for your team, it makes you understand how much you care and appreciate this game. I’m going to be more of a person who appreciates the game and is going out there trying to do whatever it takes for his team to win.
“I feel like a little kid again who actually gets to go out there and play football.”
Barkley is part of an entire cavalry of players who are returning from injuries and missed time. Tight end Evan Engram, who missed last Thursday night’s game with a knee injury, appears on track to play Sunday. Backup running back Wayne Gallman, who suffered a concussion in Week 5, was a full participant on Thursday and likely will be cleared for Sunday. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard remains in the concussion protocol but has looked spry during practices. If doctors clear him before Saturday, he could play as well.
Shula said he does not want to pin the lack of offensive production in the past two games on the injuries because it would sound like an excuse. “But we will say this: We welcome those guys back when they come back.”
Barkley’s return will mean the most to the Giants just in terms of its visceral impact. His presence alone will be able to open things up in other parts of the offense, yes, but his race to beat the initial timelines for his return that were floated when he first suffered his injury — high ankle sprains typically require six to eight weeks to heal — is something that others can rally around.
“I think there is a reason why the Giants drafted me here,” Barkley said.
On Sunday, we may be reminded of it yet again.
“Go out there and play with the God-given ability that I have and go out there with the mentality of competing any time I touch the rock,” he said of how he will approach his first game action since the injury.
“Just to go out there and be me.”