Giants running back Saquon Barkley talks to reporters in East Rutherford,...

Giants running back Saquon Barkley talks to reporters in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sept. 13, 2018. Credit: AP/Tom Canavan

Saquon Barkley never played for Bill O’Brien at Penn State, but the two did cross paths at the college. In fact, O’Brien might have played an important role in getting Barkley to play there.

In 2013, Barkley already was verbally committed to play at Rutgers, but O’Brien, in his final season in Happy Valley, invited him to a home game against Michigan. They spoke before the game, and after Penn State beat Michigan in four overtimes, Barkley was in the celebratory locker room. Barkley, then a high school junior, obviously was impressed.

“I remember him being very excited to be there and I said: ’Yeah, but you’re committed to Rutgers,’” O’Brien said. “He said, ‘No, no, no. That’s just one of those things.’”

By the time Barkley committed to Penn State, O’Brien was gone and James Franklin was the coach there. But O’Brien  clearly had laid the groundwork.

This week, O’Brien’s focus will be on stopping Barkley, not attracting him. As head coach of the Texans, O’Brien said on a conference call on Tuesday that Barkley is a “top-notch running back” for the Giants.

“He’s a great player, very hard to tackle,” O’Brien said. “Definitely a three-down back. He’s really good in the passing game, obviously a good runner. A very difficult matchup.”

Notes & quotes: The Giants are signing FB Elijhaa Penny off the Cardinals’ practice squad, likely to replace FB Shane Smith, who struggled badly in pass protection and on special teams in Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys. Penny (6-2, 234) is a converted running back who had 31 carries for 124 yards and two TDs for the Cardinals last season … Pat Shurmur, in his weekly WFAN radio appearance, said no determination has yet been made on the availabilities of LB Olivier Vernon (ankle) and CB Eli Apple (groin) for Sunday … LB Lorenzo Carter started in place of Vernon on Sunday, giving the Giants four draft picks who have started one or both of the first two games of their rookie season for the first time since the 1970 merger. RB Saquon Barkley, G Will Hernandez and DT B.J. Hill all started both games.

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