EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Saquon Barkley is everything the New York Giants expected, and then some.
The running back from Penn State who was the second overall pick in the draft is humble, immensely skilled, inquisitive and quite possibly the most popular guy on the team in terms of fan interest.
Forget that the Giants have Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. on the field. When Barkley touches the ball, there is a marked increase in the level of excitement, with “oohs” and “aahs” coming from the stands. And that was just at the opening of training camp practice.
If there is any doubt about the amount of hope the rookie has generated after a 3-13 season, look at the number of fans wearing his No. 26 jersey. It is already among the highest-selling NFL jerseys, and Barkley has not played a down as a pro.
Barkley smiled Friday when asked if he was starting to feel like a veteran heading into his second day of practice.
“Far from a veteran. Just excited, living the dream,” he said. “I’m a New York Giant, playing football. I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a little kid, to play in the NFL. Just attacking every single day, trying to get better.”
Barkley admitted playing in front of packed stands at the Giants’ headquarters was an awesome, new experience.
“Like you said, saw a lot of 26 jerseys in the stands, saw my family,” he said. “I got to see my family after, I was able to sign for kids after also, and that becomes part of the game. You don’t do it for the fans, but you play for the fans also, too, and you want to come out there and practice your heart out, and just for them being out there showing love and support, it means a lot to me.”
On the field, Barkley is all business. Whenever he sees something he doesn’t understand, he talks to Manning or fellow running back Jonathan Stewart.
“I’ve been like that since I was a little kid,” Barkley said. “My mom and dad used to say I used to ask them questions like, ‘Why this, why that, why this, why that?’ That’s just the approach that I take, and I’m always going to have, even when — God willing — I play 10 years in this league. Asking questions is how you figure it out.”
Barkley said his ambition is simple. He wants to be the best player he can possibly be to help the team win.
If there is a concern about what he can do this season, it revolves around the offensive line. It was dreadful last season and has been rebuilt with the free-agent additions of tackle Nate Solder and guard Patrick Omameh, the drafting of rookie guard Will Hernandez in the second round and the shift of Ereck Flowers from left to right tackle. Jon Halapio has replaced Brett Jones at center.
“As a running back it’s your job to set up the blocks, your job to hit the hole square, put your head down and make that guy miss,” Barkley said, noting that much of his film study is centered on how the NFL’s top backs help their linemen.
Barkley also adds the second option of being able to catch passes and use his breakaway speed to go long distances.
Giants co-owner John Mara said Thursday that Barkley has generated possibility even more interest than future Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor did when he joined the team in 1981.
“In speaking to him and watching how he conducts himself, I think he is able to handle that, so I feel good about that,” Mara said. “But still, you know I’ve used this line a million times before — let’s not get him ready for Canton just yet, let’s let him play some games first.”
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