Giants RB Saquon Barkley still playing coy about comeback: 'I don't have an answer'
NORTH CALDWELL, N.J. - The wide-eyed children running around the football field at West Essex High School on Monday morning convinced Saquon Barkley they still see him as the record-setting rookie that captured the imagination of just about everyone who watched him three years ago.
The group of reporters, also wide-eyed, lined the sideline and watched Barkley's every move, hoping to see something - anything - that would help answer one of the most important questions facing the New York Giants just eight days from training camp.
“I guess that’s what the theme of the summer is going to be: When I’ll be back,” Barkley said, offering a shrug and a wry smile, not to mention the admission that he was well aware of all the eyes focused on his surgically repaired right knee. "No, I don’t have an answer, to be honest. Not trying to build something up. It’s a fun process, but it’s a tough process at the same time. I’ll continue to listen to my body, listen to the trainers, listen to the coaches and take it day-by-day.”
So the theme from Barkley and the Giants remains the same: when they want the NFL to know his timetable and anticipated return date, we'll know.
Barkley tore the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his right knee on the first play of the second quarter against the Bears on Sept. 20 in Chicago. Later that night, Barkley had deleted every post on his Instagram account except for one: the post he made on Jan. 26 as a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.
Barkley drew tremendous inspiration from Bryant, and there was no question he would try to do same now while embarking on what would be a grueling journey.
Future Hall of Famer and current free agent running back Adrian Peterson tore his ACL in December 2011 and led the NFL in rushing the following season, eclipsing 2,000 yards rushing in the process. Barkley and the Giants can only hope to duplicate what is considered one of the league's greatest feats in recent memory by Peterson, who sent words of encouragement via Twitter.
"Saquon a born winner!! The comeback is going to be scary," Peterson wrote.
What Barkley has revealed publicly about his return is far less boastful, although those behind the scenes who have witnessed his workouts on the rehabilitation road believe he is motivated to not just come back as the same player, but an even better one.
Even without a declaration that he'll be on the practice field next week, or ready to take a full workload come Sept. 12 when the Giants open their regular season against the Broncos at MetLife Stadium, Barkley did so with his actions. He allowed his instincts to take over Monday, cutting and moving without apparent limitation during drills with his campers.
Whether there is lingering uncertainty regarding his status or this is calculated secrecy from the player, Giants coach Joe Judge and the team's medical staff remains to be seen.
“[The knee] feels pretty good,” Barkley said. “Trying to get one percent better each day and getting ready for reporting to camp. Kind of have to play it by ear. Rehab is never a straight line.”
The rehab process can be isolating, and Barkley credited Judge and the coaches going back to the season for making sure he remained a big presence within the team. He has spent a lot of the offseason training with Daniel Jones, Sterling Shepard and David Sills, among others, and Barkley credited the trio with pushing him as he works his way back.
Monday's camp was about the kids, for sure, but Barkley certainly appreciated the return from his presence, too.
"Coming out and seeing these kids, it gives you a little boost of energy, a boost of confidence," Barkley said. "Seeing the smiles. Seeing the impact you still have on people, that goes a long way. Definitely needed."
The Giants need Barkley. Barkley needs the Giants.
Both player and franchise is facing a crossroads with the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year entering a critical season regarding his contractual future. The Giants picked up Barkley's fifth-year option for 2022, but if a long-term deal is to be struck - as team president and co-owner John Mara has previously said is the expectation - whatever transpires over the next few months will play an enormous role in sorting that out.
"I’m just taking it day by day and just listening to my body, and whenever I’m able to get out there, make sure that I’m 110%," Barkley said. "Not just for the safety and health of myself, my well-being, but just so I can go out and compete at a high level and show the world who Saquon is."