Giants running back Saquon Barkley practices during minicamp at the team's training...

Giants running back Saquon Barkley practices during minicamp at the team's training facility on Wednesday. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

There is only one thing more encouraging for the Giants than seeing Saquon Barkley physically feeling like his old self this spring.

That would be Saquon Barkley being utilized like his old self at the same time.

We’re not even talking about the 2018 version of him that won the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award and looked like a generational talent who could spend a decade dominating from the Giants’ backfield. The incarnation that Barkley harkens to lately goes beyond that, even, all the way to his time at Penn State when he would rush and catch passes from all positions and all angles, casually leap over defenders as if they were puddles and he didn’t want to get his new Jordans wet, and dazzle everyone who was able to catch a glimpse of him in action . . . once they actually found him on the field in the first place.

That’s the Barkley that has been on display throughout this offseason program, not the one slowed for the last two years by various injuries or the one stymied by a stagnant offensive scheme, both handicaps now far in his past.

“I haven’t really moved like this since college,” Barkley said on Wednesday, speaking perhaps not just about his speed and quickness but about the motions, routes and other wrinkles this new playbook has in store for him.

It’s been so long since anyone has seen him in that capacity he was half-jokingly asked on Wednesday if he was even any good when he was in college.

“I was alright,” he grinned.

Perhaps he will be again.

A year ago at this time he was still rehabbing from a torn ACL and not even close to practicing. Then came the regular season in which he sprained an ankle against the Cowboys and wound up limping and lumbering for only 593 rushing yards in 13 games. The player who used to routinely rip off 60- and 70-yard runs was averaging less than 50 a game.

This spring, though, he’s been darting around with renewed physical prowess and rejuvenated spirit.

“I think Saquon is a unique guy,” coach Brian Daboll said of the running back who, if the offense displayed this spring holds into the regular season, will become the focal point for his offense. “He's been able to do everything we've asked him to do . . . I see a talented player. I'm glad he's on our team.”

Daboll didn’t have that kind of running back when he was in Buffalo, his most recent stop, but he did compare Barkley to Reggie Bush, who was in his backfield when he was offensive coordinator in Miami. It was Bush’s old record of 88 receptions as a rookie running back that Barkley broke in 2018 with 91.

The idea with this new Giants offense, Daboll said, is to get the ball in the hands of playmakers as often as possible. That will mean getting the ball to Barkley as often as possible and in as many varying ways as possible.

“He's all over the place,” Giants safety Julian Love said of trying to track Barkley in practices. “They're doing a lot more with him. I know he's really excited for that, and you've got to be, too. He's one of the best talents in the league. [Offensive coordinator Mike] Kafka, how can you not be excited to utilize that?”

Barkley is even a little excited himself, it seems. After years of perpetual clouds hovering over his helmet he is back to the smiles and good nature that endeared him to the Giants when they first drafted him.

Maybe the player he was then, too.

To prepare for his new but somewhat familiar role, Barkley has been going back in the archives watching film of himself at Penn State. It had been a while since he had opened those files, he said.

What did he see?

“I was a way more confident player in college and early in my career,” he said. “Now I'm starting to get that back, starting to get that swagger back. You can't get too high on it because it's just minicamp right now, but all the little stuff in gaining confidence here, in this break that we have [until training camp starts], hopefully it catapults and pushes me through camp and to the regular season and beyond.


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