For third-year New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, improvement starts not with big strides, but small steps. The Giants have posted losing records in each of his first two seasons with the team, and Barkley knows that they key to turning those losses around starts by doing the small things right.
“That’s why we come in every single day and work every single day to get better, one percent better,” Barkley said during a Friday videoconference. “That’s not going to happen if we don’t take care of the little things. So I want that and I’m focused on that, but right now I have to focus on today.”
Of course, focusing on today brings its own unique challenges as the Giants are one amongst many professional teams adjusting to playing a sport amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Barkley said that opting out of the 2020 season, a choice that three other Giants elected to make, never seriously crossed his mind.
“To be completely honest, I just believed in our training room, our team and our facility,” Barkley said. “They have done a tremendous job making this as safe as can be. I want to say thank you to those guys because every single day, they are putting us in the best position to stay healthy and be safe.”
Barkley understands that uncertainty continues to cloud the NFL season in 2020, particularly with the challenges Major League Baseball has faced playing in a non-bubble format. For now though, Barkley said that camp is not too different than usual. He admitted though that he does find himself being extra-conscious when fans approach him for a picture or autograph.
“I guess you can say it crosses your mind,” Barkley said. “But the best way to focus on this season is to focus on us and to make sure we’re following the procedures to try and stay healthy. When the season starts, we just got to be smart. Just still try to live the life that you love to live, but do it in a smarter way because you’re not just protecting yourself.”
Barkley explained that he is always conscious of the fact that protecting himself is directly linked to the safety of his teammates and coaches. One of the players Barkley has developed a stronger relationship with over the offseason is quarterback Daniel Jones.
“He’s a hard worker,” Barkley said of Jones. “You just grow as a player understanding and being more comfortable from your rookie year to your second year. I know for myself, I was just so much more comfortable just being in the locker room, talking to the guys. I’m really excited to see what [Jones] is able to do this year.”
Barkley has goals for himself heading into the 2020 as well. As a rookie out of Penn State, Barkley consistently turned heads with his explosive athleticism on the field. He recorded 261 rushes for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns to earn AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl selection.
His sophomore campaign however, was dragged down by a nagging high ankle sprain that caused him to miss three games. Barkley stunned everyone by returning several weeks earlier than his projected return date, but then he was held to four yards per carry for nearly two months. He still managed to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing back with 1,003 yards on the season, but there was no denying that Barkley was different on the field.
So after an up-and-down first couple of years in the league, Barkley said that he is most focused on his growth as an all-around player in the 2020 season.
“I’m really focused on trying to get better in every area of my game,” Barkley said. “I feel like I have so much room to continue to grow. Some of my focus points are improving in between tackles, outside tackles, catching the ball, ball security. Every single day, I try to focus and get better in every area of my game.”
Barkley also insured that he did not have to tailor any of his offseason training to compensate from any residual soreness from last season’s ankle injury.
“My approach was try to get bigger, stronger and faster, which I think I was able to accomplish this offseason,” Barkley said. “Those injuries (ankle) come from the game. But it’s those other injuries that I want to take care of like making sure I’m hydrated right, making sure I’m stretching and working with our trainers. I just want to focus on the little things that I can control. The injuries that you can’t control are just part of the game.”
Barkley said that he has grown from the setbacks of last season and he is now focused on the fresh start ahead both at the personal and team level.
“It’s a brand new year,” Barkley said. “Fresh start. We’re coming in, we’re locked in. Obviously there are mistakes being made but that’s part of the nature of learning. I feel like our coaching staff is doing a tremendous job of having us focus on the little things...That’s we’re trying to attack every single day.”