The Giants' Saquon Barkley runs the ball during practice at...

The Giants' Saquon Barkley runs the ball during practice at the team's training camp in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 19. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

The hardest hit to Saquon Barkley during Friday night’s scrimmage may have come not from a defensive teammate, but from the new reality.

In an empty stadium, with coaches and officials wearing masks, surrounded by the artificial sound of a crowd that did not exist, the third-year running back got his first real sense of what the 2020 season will feel like.

“I remember at one point on the sideline, Evan [Engram] and I looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, we’re really in a pandemic,’ ” Barkley said.


Adjusted training camp practices and protocols in meetings are one thing, but playing games in cavernous buildings without anyone watching was, well, weird. And while the scrimmage was designed to be a dry run of a game day experience on the field, it was also about getting the players used to what their upcoming 16 contests may be like beyond the actual football.

Normally it is the young rookies from small colleges who are overwhelmed by the bright lights and overpowering energy of NFL Sundays. This year will be the opposite. It will be the veterans and stars who are used to playing for packed houses and having their names chanted and seeing their jerseys on the backs of thousands who will need to adapt to a new atmosphere.

“Anytime you make that big play and you hear those fans roar, you get that energy from them,” Barkley said. “Fans do play a big part in a game, especially for me, coming from Penn State and coming to New York. For me personally, I’ve always had great fans. But now, you have to find that spark in yourself.

“You love this game,” he added. “You wake up every single day and are able to play the game you loved since you were a little kid. So, go out there and have fun with it, whether there are fans or not.”

Some of the Giants seemed to have some fun with the situation. When they ran out of the tunnel, defenders Leonard Williams and Jabrill Peppers were waving their arms at the empty chairs as if bringing the crowd to their feet. At one point, coming out of a timeout, linebacker Marcus Golden was on the field imploring the crowd to raise its volume and make communication difficult for the offense.

It didn’t work.

While some teams are allowing a fraction of their capacity crowds to enter and watch games, the Giants – and the Jets, who share MetLife Stadium – are starting the season with a complete lockdown. It’s a decision that comes not from the teams but the governor of New Jersey. All of those entities have left room for the possibility of fans returning at some point this season, but at least for the first few games the players will be performing for 82,000 empty gray seats.

“It kind of felt like practice,” Barkley said of the scrimmage. “I think that’s kind of going to be the vibe for the season. Hopefully, we’re able to find something that we would be able to bring fans back by the end of the season. But that’s the way it’s going to be [for now]. It felt like practice. You go out there with your teammates, you have music going, you go out there and you just try to get better. Obviously, there’s no fans there.

“It’s definitely going to be different.”

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