Giants fans finally will get first look at Saquon Barkley


This is supposed to be the era of professional football when the running back isn’t all that important. From the West Coast offense to the Spread, the need for a 1,000-yard rusher has been replaced by the no-huddle, burn-’em-with-the-pass approach.

The Giants tried that under head coach Ben McAdoo and it didn’t work. The Giants went 3-13 in 2017 with the 26th-ranked rushing offense in the league, up from 29th the year before. Now they have Saquon Barkley and, suddenly, running back has become the most important position in the Giants’ offense again.

Barkley, the second-overall pick in the 2018 draft, is expected to make his NFL debut Thursday night when the Giants open their preseason schedule against the Browns at MetLife Stadium. With all due respect to Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants need Barkley to be the most unpredictable factor in the offense if they’re going to get quarterback Eli Manning another crack at a Super Bowl anytime soon. That process starts Thursday against the Browns.

“Hopefully, I can maximize every rep,” Barkley kept repeating this week in anticipation of his first NFL game.

The Giants will settle for that for now. But it remains almost a mystery how he will be utilized in Pat Shurmur’s offense. Despite his gaudy numbers at Penn State — 3,843 career rushing yards and 43 touchdowns — Barkley isn’t your grandfather’s running back despite the king-sized quads. He is not Ottis Anderson or Joe Morris or Rodney Hampton or Brandon Jacobs. They were all straight-ahead runners with stone hands. Barkley is a special blend of power and speed with the ability to be dangerous as receiver.

During training camp he has been positioned as a tailback in the I-formation or a receiver split out wide at the line of scrimmage. He’s is already more difficult to game plan for than Beckham.

“I feel very comfortable running routes against anybody,” Barkley said recently. “I think that’s where I can help this offense by being able to be an all-around every single-down back. I hope throughout camp and throughout the years here, I [can] continue to get better at that.”

Shurmur will call plays during the game and isn’t going to go deep into the playbook during the first exhibition. Still it will be good to get a glimpse of Barkley in a live game.

Just what the Giants need from Barkley this year is uncertain and figures to be fluid from week to week. He certainly shouldn’t need to carry the Giants offense on his strong legs. He may not even have to rush for anywhere near 100 yards per game. Shurmur has plenty of other weapons he must get the ball to: Beckham, fellow wideout Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram. The idea is keep defenses guessing just where the ball is going to go.

Manning is looking forward to the dress rehearsal.

“You just want to see how we’re going to work together and how guys are going to do in game situations,” the quarterback said, “to see if their level of play stays the same, elevates or goes down. You have to be able to do it in practice, but you have to be able to do it on game day as well.”

Manning has been impressed by the work ethic Barkley has displayed in camp.

“I’m asking him questions, challenging him and getting him to understand seeing coverages, seeing defenses, and safety rotations and things like that so he understands his protections and what’s going on,” Manning said. “He’s a smart kid and he’s learned the offense. I’ve been impressed by the way he sees things, the way he reacts after catching the ball and making moves. I’m excited to see him in a full-speed situation.”

So is the rest of Giants nation.



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