EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Julian Love has not only seen a different Saquon Barkley on the field in recent months, the New York Giants safety is excited what the star running back is showing in the locker room.
Love said Barkley, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2018, is itching to play.
“I think he’s back in his headspace of being super competitive,” Love said Wednesday after the second practice of a three-day mandatory minicamp. “When I mentioned competitive talks in the locker room, he’s the main guy. He’s one locker over from me and that’s the main conversation every day about him competing. So I think that’s what we’ve been seeing, and I’m excited for him.”
In his second season removed from a major injury on his right knee, Barkley is showing signs that he might be able to regain the form that made him one of the NFL’s top running backs in his first two seasons.
An ACL and meniscus injury ended his third season in the second game. Last season, Barkley wasn’t the same after a year-long rehabilitation. He didn’t start practicing until two weeks before the start of the regular season, and he never appeared comfortable in a dismal 4-13 season.
In 13 games, the Penn State product rushed for 593 yards on 162 carries and caught 41 passes for 263 yards. He scored four touchdowns. An ankle injury sidelined him for four games.
The statistics were a far cry from Barkley’s rookie year when he was the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. He ran 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 91 passes for 721 yards and four touchdowns. He gained 1,003 yards rushing in 2019 and had 52 catches.
Barkley never came close to that level of play last season, playing behind a weak offensive line. He never looked comfortable in open space.
“I’ll tell you, I feel a lot better than I felt at this point last year,” Barkley said. “Like you said, I was rehabbing. My body feels good. My body feels strong. Feel like I got my strength back. Feel like I got my speed back. Feel like I can trust my knee again, trust myself to make plays and not think about it.”
Barkley is still pushing himself to be faster and stronger so he can return to training camp late next month and be ready to go.
If anything is noticeable in the offense coach Brian Daboll has installed, it is he plans to use Barkley as a receiver a lot more. He has been lined up all over the field in the organized team activities and the minicamp.
It’s nothing he hasn’t done before, but it is a sign he will be a major part of the offense.
“I think any time you have a good player, if you’re an offensive play-caller scheming, you find a way to get the best players the football,” said Daboll, the former Bills offensive coordinator.
“Targets. Sometimes as a decoy, touches in the run game. Guys that can produce and make yards with the ball in their hand, as a play-caller, you like those guys.”
Barkley also has done some work himself. After last season, he went back and looked at film of his games with the Nittany Lions, searching for anything he could carry forward to help his game.
Barkley isn’t ready to shout out to the NFL that he’s back.
“Like I said before, it’s really early, so I can’t make too many predictions for the future,” he said. “But it is what it is. I think I said it before, when the tables turn, just make sure you’re on the side of that table. Just stay on that side. It is what it is.”
NOTES: Love got a few laughs when asked what he saw from the offensive linemen when he lined up as a linebacker in the A-gap — center and guard — in Tuesday’s practice. “I saw a few of them crying,” the 195-pound Love quipped. … Placekicker Graham Gano sent the team away happy at the end of Wednesday’s practice. He kicked a 53-yard field goal with a stiff left-to-right crosswind blowing. Players and coaches did not have to run after practice because he made the kick. … The latter part of the practice was conducted as a walk-through with players taking off their helmets.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL.