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Bill Belichick hopes Patriots don't have to face Giants' Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley of the Giants looks on from

Saquon Barkley of the Giants looks on from the bench during the fourth quarter against the Vikings at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Bill Belichick does not scare easily.

He seemed a little spooked by Saquon Barkley.

“We haven’t faced him,” the Patriots coach said on Monday. “And I hope we don’t.”

The Giants’ second-year running back still is rehabbing from a high ankle sprain suffered on Sept. 22. The Giants have offered no insight into his availability for Thursday’s game against the Patriots, but he did take some practice reps on Friday and worked out before the game against the Vikings on Sunday.

“We need to be ready for him,” Belichick said. “He’s a very competitive guy, I’m sure he’s doing all he can to get ready to go. He was close last week, so we’ll probably get him.”

Barkley was projected as limited in Monday’s practice (the team did not have a full workout because of the short week). Pat Shurmur said Barkley is “doing great” and “closer” to playing than he was last week. The Giants will practice on Tuesday and give Barkley an official injury designation. Shurmur wouldn't even speculate if Barkley might be a gametime decision.

The addition of Barkley certainly would change the dynamic of a Giants offense that struggled on Sunday against the Vikings. The Giants also are very shorthanded at the position. Wayne Gallman, Barkley’s replacement, was knocked out of Sunday’s game early with a concussion, which left them with just rookie Jon Hilliman and fullback Eli Penny as options in the backfield.

Barkley has never faced the Patriots, as Belichick noted, not even in the two preseason games the Giants have played against them since he arrived last season. But Belichick certainly has watched the star back and called him “probably the best running back in the league.” Belichick has a habit of over-praising opponents to the point of ridiculousness, but his thoughts on Barkley seemed sincere.

“He can do it all,” Belichick said. “He’s got great power, speed, they use him well in the passing game. He’s very hard, obviously, to tackle in the open field, he’s hard to tackle anywhere. He’s got good vision, good quickness, he can play in space, he’s elusive, he’s got power, he had 2,000 yards from scrimmage last year. That pretty much says it all right there. Plus, we know he can return kickoffs and everything else, so he’s got a ton of skill, as good as any back we’ve seen on film.”

Barkley has missed two-and-a-half games with his injury. The Giants are 1-1 in the two games in which he did not play.

Initial speculation was that Barkley could miss a month or more with his injury. High ankle sprains typically require 4-8 weeks to heal. Barkley had a similar injury as a freshman in college and missed just two games. Because the Giants play on Thursday this week, if he is able to duplicate that two-game absence this time, it actually would be in less time by a few days than his college recovery.

Before he sprained his ankle, Barkley was averaging 6.4 yards per carry and had caught 11 passes for 74 yards.

“He was an explosive player and a dynamic player this year,” Belichick continued. “I’m sure he’s either going to be back or is close to being back, so we have to be ready for him.”

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