EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Here in a nutshell is the hectic previous seven months in the life of Saquon Barkley.
He closed a spectacular career at Penn State by helping lead his team to a Fiesta Bowl victory and announced the next day he was leaving for the NFL. He wowed scouts at the NFL scouting combine, became a father, was drafted No. 2 overall by the New York Giants and signed a guaranteed four-year, $31.2 million contract.
Now settled in at training camp, the 5-foot-11, 233-pound Barkley is working to hone his craft at the highest level he can. To help him do that, he often has questions at the ready for Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft when Barkley was just 7 years old.
“Every time I have a question of something I’m not sure about, he’s there on the field and I ask him,” the 21-year-old Barkley said Monday. “I try to prepare myself as much as I can, whether it’s in the pass [protection], the running game or the pass game, so I can be as prepared as possible to help the team as much as I can.”
Manning, entering his 15th season, all with the Giants, is OK with the questions.
“Our relationship’s going well,” he said. “He’s asking questions. I’m asking him questions and challenging him and getting him to kind of understand to see coverages and see defenses and safety rotations, things like that, just so that he understands his protections and what’s going on.
“But I’ve been impressed. He’s a smart kid. He’s learned the offense well. I’ve been impressed on the field, the way he sees things, the way he reacts after catching the ball, making moves. So I’m excited to see him in a full-speed situation.”
The expectations for Barkley are high, and he has shown flashes that he is capable of living up to them. He has impressed with his willingness to stick his nose in the middle of a blitz and stop a linebacker in his tracks. He showed he can make an impact in the passing game, catching a screen pass in Monday’s oppressive heat and making a nice move at the sideline for a long gain.
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First-year head coach Pat Shurmur, who spent 13 seasons on the Eagles’ coaching staff, is not ready to anoint Barkley as the second coming of Tiki Barber just yet. But he appears optimistic that the rookie can make a significant contribution.
“He plays extremely well, so it doesn’t look like … at least in the training sessions, he doesn’t look like a rookie to me,” he said. “So that’s good.”
Shurmur raised some eyebrows last week when he limited Barkley’s reps on Thursday and kept him out of all live drills on Saturday. He explained Monday that Barkley was fine and that he was “managing his workload.”
While admitting “I want to be out there every single rep and every single play,” Barkley said he has no problem with his practice snaps, saying he stays locked in with “mental reps,” studying what needs to be done for a play to be successful.
At running back, the Giants have veteran Jonathan Stewart and second-year man Wayne Gallman to push Barkley. Shurmur said he hasn’t yet decided on playing time in Thursday’s preseason opener against Cleveland, but Barkley said, “I’m more than capable of playing right now.”
In the postgame evaluations, Manning likely will take more questions from Barkley. The 37-year-old quarterback says he’s excited to see Barkley play at game tempo, and has talked to him about taking what the defense gives him instead of trying to break every run to the house.
“You can’t try to score a touchdown on every play,” Manning said. “Sometimes you’ve got to take the three-yard gain. Understand that expectations are probably extremely high. Don’t worry about that. That’s what you have a team for.
“When the opportunity comes and there is a hole and you get to the safeties, then that’s your opportunity to make a guy miss and make something special happen.”