The biggest difference in Saquon Barkley from his first year to his second isn’t a visual one. He looks the same as last year, running around, darting in different directions, catching passes and making ridiculous plays seem commonplace.
No, the change in Barkley this summer is more auditory.
Every practice in training camp not only features him dazzling with the ball in his hands but yapping about it, too.
It’s not that he’s become a trash-talker, but he definitely has become more of a talker in general. His mouth is catching up to his feet.
Which is fine by the Giants. They drafted Barkley not only to be their star running back but a leader and a potential face/voice of the franchise. He already has fulfilled the first part of that promise. This year, he’s taking strides toward part two of the package deal.
“Probably me just being a little more comfortable,” Barkley said Friday. “When you’re a rookie, your head is spinning, and you’re just trying to get in here and show these guys that you belong, and I guess now I feel more comfortable . . . I’ve definitely asserted myself in more of a leadership role.”
For Barkley, being a vocal leader is a conscious decision rather than a natural disposition. It’s something he has to work on, just like blitz pickups and route-running.
“When I was younger, in high school and college, I was a guy that would just come in and work and lead by example, and you have to do that, you have to lead by example and show what you’re able to do, but you have to be vocal, too,” he said. “That’s where I had to get a little more comfortable. I guess you could say from last year to this year, as the season went on, I got more comfortable, started being more vocal in the locker room, started being more vocal on the field.”
Barkley said he’s always been vocal on the sideline in games.
“Whether it’s you’re up 40 and trying to keep the team going, saying: ‘Finish them, let’s stomp on their necks and finish the game.’ Or if you’re down by a lot, saying: ‘We’ve got to get rolling, let’s go,’ ” he said.
This summer, though, he’s cranking up the volume.
“I think that’s probably a Year 2 thing,” coach Pat Shurmur said of the chattiness from Barkley, which has been hard to miss. “As you get more settled with things, you tend to be a little bit more vocal. I sort of saw that behind the scenes last year. I guess the world is starting to see it a little bit more now.”
The key is having the other 10 players on offense — really the other 21 players on the field — respond positively to the rah-rah stuff. Otherwise, it’s just noise.
Barkley thinks his increased vociferousness is having a good impact on the team.
“I know that [a] little trash- talking, it brings a competitive nature to the team,” he said.
He also knows that it’s not something he has to provide by himself.
“That’s the beauty of sports, and especially the beauty of football,” Barkley said. “You don’t just need one leader. It’s not like when I’m saying I’m asserting myself into that role that I’m the leader of the New York Giants. There’s [many] of us, we all lead in different ways.
“I’m trying to find my way to lead, and a way that I believe is going to help the team, but I know Evan [Engram] is going to find his way. Eli [Manning], [Alec] Ogletree, AB [Antoine Bethea], Jabrill [Peppers], all those guys, and the list goes on and on, is going to lead in different ways. We have characters on our team that can help lead a team, not just one person.”
True. There are plenty of players who have been chirpy in training camp. It does elevate the intensity of the practices, drive everyone to push harder, and come closer to simulating game experiences.
But having the best player on the field become the lead singer, too, will only help the Giants.