A large chunk of the Giants’ 2021 season will be focused on gauging the on-field development of Daniel Jones. The preseason, though, will have a different player carrying the daily narrative. For the next month and a half, Planet NYG will pretty much revolve around the development of Saquon Barkley as he inches back toward the field.
Barkley, recovering from a ACL tear suffered last September, will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. The Giants gave him and other players returning from injury that designation late last week when they reported to the facility for their initial checkups. That means when the team starts tearing up the grass with their first workout of the summer on Wednesday, Barkley will be working on the side with trainers rather than taking handoffs and catching passes.
All of the players on PUP are eligible to have that label lifted at any point this preseason, but in Barkley’s case, the Giants are going to be abundantly cautious.
"It’s still under a year [from his surgery], so I want to make sure we are very conscious what we do with him," coach Joe Judge said in an interview with Newsday. "We’re just wanting to make sure that when he’s fully ready to go, we put him out there. He’s definitely been working his butt off this summer and he’s made a lot of progress and he’s anxious to get out there, but we want to make sure we make the right decision for him and the team so that when we do put him out there, he can stay out there."
There is no medical timeline for that, but there are some fairly clear mile-markers Barkley will pass along the way to the regular-season opener against the Broncos on Sept. 12, a game he may or may not be ready to play. In just over two weeks, the Giants will open their preseason schedule against the Jets. Then they’ll participate in back-to-back weeks of joint practices and preseason games with the Browns and Patriots. What Barkley will be able to do — or, more to the point, be allowed to do — at each of those steps is unclear.
Judge said he has seen Barkley’s workouts, both in person for the Giants and the ones the running back posted to social media. He said Barkley has been "very impressive" but described him as "not fully ready to go."
"There is a big difference between rehab, running through bags, and running through a hole, sticking your foot in the ground while someone is trying to tackle you at full speed," Judge said.
To be on the field for the game on Sept. 12, Barkley will have to be on the field for practices before that. While players certainly can make the leap directly from PUP to regular-season games in accordance with NFL rules, Judge said Barkley will have to face Giants teammates before he goes up against defenders from other teams.
"Until a player can get in with our team in practice and go full speed, we’ll never ask them to go against an opponent full speed," Judge said.
Barkley has just six weeks to prove he is ready for that.