Saquon Barkley needs to face contact, but he doesn’t need to get crunched and land underneath a pile of bodies.
So, Barkley is one of a handful of key Giants who will not play Saturday in the final game of the preseason against the Patriots. It’s no real surprise, given the cautious approach taken with Barkley all training camp, but head coach Joe Judge opened the door to the possibility earlier this week when he said the running back needs to absorb a hit at a live tempo before the regular season.
“We will dress him, he’ll go through warm-ups and continue ramping up,” Judge said. “Going forward into the season, the focus will be gearing him to as much 11-on-11 as we can give within our own team.”
Most starters — including quarterback Daniel Jones — will play at least the first half, but wide receiver Kenny Golladay and tight end Kyle Rudolph will not. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney, left guard Shane Lemieux, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and defensive tackle Danny Shelton are other notable players unlikely to play based on lack of practice.
As Barkley works his way back from a torn ACL, partially torn meniscus and MCL strain, he debuted in 11-on-11 drills wearing a red non-contract jersey Thursday during joint practices against the Patriots. He was in the same blue jersey as the rest of the Giants’ offense during Friday’s walk-through periods at MetLife Stadium.
“We’ll put him in some situations where he has to just go out there and react,” Judge said. “That’s really the biggest test physically coming off any injury — when you are on the field, the reactionary quickness and suddenness you have to play with.”
Judge still hasn’t committed to Barkley playing in Week 1 against the Broncos, but he was impressed with a catch out of the backfield and turn upfield to gain separation from Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower on Barkley’s final snap of the joint practices.
“I thought it was really encouraging because you see it in the drill work and individual [periods],” Judge said, “but that’s really what you are looking for getting a guy built back. You have to catch a ball, locate a defender, make a move and your body has to be able to go and play explosive. I thought that was good by Saquon.”
Toney appears to be behind other injured players because he isn’t even drilling with trainers on the side during practices.
“As a young player, you can’t lay back on years of experience,” Judge said. “Kyle Rudolph is in a much different situation because he’s played a long time in this league and has vast experience in different systems and different coaching.
“No one just jumps out there because they have ability or talent and are going to play in Week 1 or Week 2 like they are in Week 8 or Week 10, or Year 2 and Year 3.”
The Giants have to trim the roster from 80 to 53 players by Tuesday. There’s an extra week between the final preseason game with its ensuing cut and Week 1 this year.
“There is a clear picture for the majority of the roster,” Judge said, “but there are still a number of positions up for grabs.”
Judge’s message to bubble players is simple: “One play is not going to make it, but it’s never too late.”