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Saquon Barkley ‘living the dream’ as he begins his first NFL training camp

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The rookie running back is learning by watching — and by asking lots of questions

NFL: New York Giants-Training Camp Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley said before Friday’s training camp practice that he’s “living the dream,” as he headed into Day 2 of practices. And while he hasn’t “had to do anything like grab people’s pads,” he’s still very much in rookie mode.

But Barkley is ready for the challenges that the NFL presents for a first-year player, especially one facing high expectations after being selected with the second-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s prepared, for one.

He’s spent his offseason “watching a lot of film.” He’s been studying as well, preparing to take the field with a command of everything asked of him. Barkley said, “I understand the playbook, and now it’s just trying to put it all together. All the hard work I’ve put in the offseason, all the studying I’ve done, all the [running] backs I’ve watched, I try to take it to my own game and continue to get better every single day.”

But there are still a few lessons to be learned. He didn’t know, until reminded today, that quarterback Eli Manning likes to snag teammates’ phones and do things like change the language settings. And learning how to react to the crowds gathered during each day’s practice is a transition of its own kind.

Barkley said that he “definitely never practiced in front of a crowd like that,” adding, “It was awesome.” But, he noted, “no one told me how you are supposed to respond to that [referring to fans chanting his name in the stands]. If you aren’t busy and you have a chance to acknowledge them, I think you should, but when you’re in a drill and focused, you should be focused on football.”

Another first: Splitting starter’s reps with other backs. For now, at least, he’s sharing time with veteran Jonathan Stewart. “In college, I was always going every three, then I would switch with Miles [Sanders] or Mark [Allen], or Andre [Robinson], but I love it actually. I haven’t done anything in this league yet, I’ve got to continue to prove myself, and it’s also a chance for me to learn,” said Barkley.

Stewart, for his part, has been a deep well of information for Barkley; “I ask him a lot of questions and get to see what he’s seeing, and come in and try the next play.” As one example, “Something that I’ve learned now from him, a lot of things I’ve done in college was just off of instincts, just making natural cuts — now you can foresee that, seeing defensive fronts, seeing him flow to linebackers, he watches all of that.”

Stewart, and the rest of Barkley’s teammates, should quickly get used to numerous questions out of the rookie back. That’s just Barkley’s way. “Never really been afraid to ask questions. I’ve been like that since I was a little kid. My mom and dad used to say I used to ask them questions like, why this, why that, why this, why that?,” he said. When it comes to football that means, “if it’s a play, picking up a blitz, if it’s asking Jonathan Stewart why he made that cut, even if it’s asking a wide receiver how do I set up a hitch, how am I not going to give it off, how do I run a slant?”

And though he admitted that he’s “probably a little annoying” when it comes to the questions he’s been asking of Manning in particular, Manning has also been repaying the effort in kind. Barkley says the quarterback “has been challenging me and asking me questions. If we’re not on the field, he will just call me aside and be like, what do you do in this scenario? And I’ve got to answer the question. Hopefully most of the time I’m right, but if I’m wrong, he will let me know why I’m wrong.”

Barkley also has the rookie sense of optimism about the upcoming season and is particularly awestruck with the offensive talent around him in New York. “When you look to your left and your right, you’ve got Odell [Beckham], you got Cody [Latimore], you got [Sterling] Shepard, you’ve got Evan Engram catching one-handed passes... [Y]ou definitely see the potential,” boasted Barkley.

The same can be said of Barkley — the potential is very much there for him to have an impressive rookie season. And it’s clear his plan is to spend the coming weeks learning everything he needs in order to meet the considerable expectations that have been placed upon him.