Here is yet another example of how special a rookie Saquon Barkley is:
He is seeing his practice snaps reduced because he is making so few mistakes and almost never repeating the same mistake twice.
This could sound just a bit counterintuitive — shouldn’t such near-flawless displays be rewarded with more reps, not fewer? — but it actually makes complete sense. The Giants are going to rely on Barkley for so, so much this season and any wear and tear they can take off his legs — even those massive tree-trunk thighs can grow fatigued — will pay dividends when the leaves turn and there’s wind chill in the air.
“Sometimes you see rookies getting a feel for things where they don’t quite get it yet,’’ coach Pat Shurmur said Monday before a sweltering training camp practice. “That’s why it’s important that you practice because when mistakes happen, you correct them and you move on. Players tell you what they need to learn by some of the mistakes they make.’’
And … players tell you what they’ve already learned by the mistakes they do not make.
This is the deal with Barkley. Shurmur and his staff have seen enough to know they can take the precocious rookie off the field; he requires less to maximize his development. Thus, there is no need to keep pounding away on him in practice.
A new bar must be set for Barkley to hurdle. Just in time, this is actually a game week, with the preseason opener Thursday night at MetLife Stadium against the Browns not a moment too soon. How much longer can we see him abusing one of his own linebackers on a route out of the backfield or out of the slot? How many more times can we see Barkley take a handoff and dart through the middle of his own defense, with the occasional “thud” contact barely slowing him down?
Do we need to see any more of this practice devastation? As a sign of things to come, Barkley on Monday inhaled a middle screen — after Eli Manning pump-faked a pass in the right flat to Odell Beckham Jr., in motion. Barkley made a subtle inside cut, used a block from right guard Patrick Omameh on defensive lineman Kerry Wynn and darted outside, where he completed a long gain down the left sideline.
Let’s get on with this.
“Definitely looking forward to the first hit,’’ Barkley said. “The first hit in a game is the thing that knocks everything out, whether you’re nervous, you’re over-thinking stuff, it definitely helps. I haven’t really got the time to sit down and think about playing in my first NFL game, but I’m definitely looking forward to the opportunity.’’
Shurmur has yet to reveal his playing-time formula for what is also his unofficial debut as the Giants head coach, although he laid to rest any notion that keeping Barkley out of drills in practice for a few days last week was masking some undisclosed ailment.
“There’s nothing wrong with Saquon,’’ Shurmur said. “We’re just managing his reps like we would any running back.’’
Of course, the Giants know Barkley is not any running back. He has already started to develop relationships with his offensive linemen — not generic relationships, mind you, but individualized bonds. He has already spoken with Nate Solder, the veteran left tackle, about setting up group dinners during the season.
Already, Barkley is comfortable with give-and-take with older players. If, for instance, safety Landon Collins beats him on a blitz, Barkley will ask about his own hand placement and try to find out if he was leaning the wrong way. Barkley is the rare rookie who will also try to instruct established NFL players if he believes he can do some good.
“Say if I beat linebacker [Alec] Ogletree on a route, I could tell him what he was doing wrong there,’’ Barkley said. “It’s helping each other.’’
It is time to see Saquon hit and get hit by someone wearing a different color uniform.
“I’m excited to see him play,’’ linebacker Mark Herzlich said.
“We talked a little bit about [how] you can’t try to make a big play, score a touchdown every play,’’ Manning said. “Sometimes you have to take a 3-yard gain, take what the defense is giving you. Just understand expectations are probably extremely high. Don’t worry about that. That’s what you have a team for. When the opportunity comes, when there is a hole and you get to the safety, that’s your opportunity to make a guy miss and make something special happen.’’
Asked if he is hoping to play Thursday night, Barkley looked a bit incredulous.
“Hoping? I plan to play,’’ he said. “I’m more than capable of playing right now so I’m happy and excited I’m going to be able to play in my first NFL game.’’
It is time.
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