EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is starting to get his swagger back. For that to happen, it means at some point it was lost.
Barkley said for the first time after Wednesday’s minicamp practice that his confidence took a hit in recent years. He didn’t fully trust his right knee, after he tore his ACL and meniscus early in the 2020 season, and it contributed to his struggles last year.
But things are finally starting to look up after three injury-filled seasons.
“Coming into this [minicamp], focus on my body, work on my body. Doing all the little things necessary to keep my body healthy,” Barkley said. “When you have that, when you can trust your body, your confidence just grows. I would say the difference [from college to now] was I was a way more confident player in college and early in my career than I was prior to last year.
“Now I’m starting to get that swagger back.”
It would be just in time. Barkley, 25, is set to play this season on the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
At one point, that would have seemed incredibly unlikely. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in his first professional season when he compiled 2,028 total yards. He’s had 2,391 yards in the three seasons since.
Barkley had an ankle injury in 2019, followed by a torn ACL in 2020 and another ankle injury last year. It has been a tough stretch for the star running back, who was still rehabbing the knee at this time last year.
“I’ll tell you I feel a lot better than at this point last year,” Barkley said. “Like you said, I was rehabbing. My body feels good. My body feels strong. I’ve got my strength back. I feel like I got my speed back. I feel like I can trust in my knee again. Trust in myself to make plays and not think about it.”
Without that trust, Barkley struggled last season. He finished with just 593 rushing yards in 13 games. His rushing yards over expectation was minus-0.28 yards per carry.
This offseason has a different feel. The supreme athleticism that made Barkley the No. 2 overall pick seems to have returned. The Giants and new coach Brian Daboll are using him all over the field, to the point that it reminded Barkley of his usage in college at Penn State.
“The routes we are asking him to run, his quickness, his ability to get in and out of breaks, his long speed, it’s all looked good,” Daboll said of what he’s seen from Barkley this spring.
It’s clear Barkley is a major part of the Giants’ new offense, which Daboll said would be built around the team’s skill guys.
Barkley is near the top of that list. He had touchdown receptions out of the backfield in each of the first two mandatory minicamp practices this week.
“Yeah, I see a talented player. I’m glad he’s on our team,” Daboll said. “Look forward to working with him. He’s been great since I’ve been here just on the field, running around. Has been impressive. Again, we got to go out there and do it with pads and under some pressure. Everything we’ve asked him to do to this point, he has done a really nice job.”
The Giants’ offseason workout program ends Thursday. Then they are off until the start of training camp in late July.
But Barkley knows there is more work to do to get ready for the season.
“Yeah, my body feels really good,” he said. “But you have to keep on it. Gotta keep going. Gotta keep pushing myself to keep working, to get stronger, get faster but also maintain the strength and remain healthy throughout this break so I can come in at a high note for camp and the season.”
Being healthy in the spring is the first step in the process. He will then need to remain healthy throughout training camp and over 17 weeks.
It’s only logical to take a wait-and-see approach.
“You can’t get too high on it because it’s just minicamp right now,” Barkley said. “But all that little stuff and gaining confidence in here and this break that we have hopefully catapults and pushes me through camp and into the regular season and beyond.”