Saquon Barkley in a good place, and so are Giants
A year ago, Saquon Barkley had heard enough.
Enough about his running style, about his future, about his allegedly diminished effectiveness as a running back.
As the calendar turned to 2022, and after three significant injuries, Barkley had a message for his critics: “Make sure you stay on that side of the table when things flip around.”
In August, before the start of the season, Barkley reinforced his feelings: “People are trying to write me off.”
For Barkley, the resurgence has been complete. He has played in every game this season and ranks fourth in rushing among NFL running backs. And he is happy.
Reminded of his earlier comments, Barkley smiled.
“I don’t really have time to reflect on that,” he said. “I know I said what I said coming into the season. I put that into the world.”
Barkley has rushed for 1,254 yards on 283 carries, a 4.4-yard average, and has scored 10 touchdowns. His average of 83.6 rushing yards per game is the highest of his career, and he needs 54 rushing yards to break his career high of 1,307 set in his rookie season. He also has caught 55 passes for 343 yards.
All along, Barkley said, he never doubted himself. Never doubted that he again could become the running back drafted second overall, the running back the Giants could build their team around.
The injuries — a high ankle sprain in 2019, a torn ACL in 2020 and a low ankle sprain in 2021 — did not mount in 2022. Barkley has been healthy, especially by NFL standards.
His frustration — which manifested itself, in part, in his desire to defend himself — also is gone.
Of his resurgence this season, Barkley said: “I kind of expected this. I knew I worked really hard. But the thing I’m most proud about is, there was a lot of people that helped me get back to where I’m at right now physically and mentally.
“Whether it’s family or friends or trainers, physical therapists, it’s so many people. That’s why I’m happy I’m able to show I still have the talent, I still have the ability to play at a really high level. It’s also about giving gratitude to the people who’ve helped me get back to this spot I’m in right now.”
Those people include Giants offensive line coach Bobby Johnson. Since his arrival as a member of Brian Daboll’s staff, Johnson has become close to Barkley.
It’s a simple one.
“One of the things Bobby says all the time is, just be you,” Barkley said. “That gives you confidence. Just be you, let loose and play the sport that you love.”
Barkley has taken that to heart. In the offseason, he took time to get his body right. With no injury to rehabilitate, he could get his body back to the training he wanted to do.
“Getting the confidence back in myself helped, too,” he said.
That was a group effort that included Daboll and Johnson.
“What I gleaned from my [early] interaction with Saquon, because he is the best player [on the team], was that there was such a high expectation level for him, and sometimes it was unrealistic,” Johnson said. “He was being asked to do too much.”
For example: Johnson said Barkley would look all around while in pass protection. When Johnson asked what he was doing, Barkley said his responsibility in the past was to “make the line right” with is protections. In other words, while Barkley had his responsibilities in pass protection, he also was tasked with blocking a free rusher should one emerge.
Said Johnson: “I’ve never heard that before.”
Johnson told Barkley, “Well, I never want you to do that.”
Johnson said he also saw a tendency in Barkley “to always want to hit the home run. I think when you’re on a team where you know you need a big play, and you know you’re a good player, you always try to make the big play.”
No, Johnson would tell Barkley, just be you.
“He has the ability where the big play is going to happen,” Johnson said. “If you try to do something outside of what you’re supposed to do, we’re not all going to be on the same page. I remind him of that. He is excitable. He is a pleaser. He wants to do everything right. He wants to win, which are all good things. But I think sometimes a guy [needs a reminder]. I tell Saquon before every game, just be yourself.”
For these Giants, that is enough.