And the most productive running back to wear a Giants uniform thinks Wilson could be really special.
“He is as dynamic a player at that position that the Giants have ever had,” Barber said this week at the Big Daddy Celebrity Golf Classic. “So it is just a matter of him learning those little intricacies of what it takes to be great.”
That’s high praise coming from Barber, who is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher (10,449 yards), is second in all-time receptions (586) and scored 55 touchdowns.
Barber was dangerous on the field as a running and receiving threat. But the three-time Pro Bowler thinks Wilson is even more dynamic.
“Oh yeah,” Barber said. “I wasn’t fast. I was quick, I was elusive, I had good vision but I didn’t have breakaway speed like he does. I wasn’t the athlete like he is. I worked hard to get where I was. As long as he doesn’t take that for granted and works hard on top of it, he can be fantastic.”
Running backs coach Jerald Ingram has preached about how he wants Wilson and Andre Brown to develop into complete backs. Wilson has tried improving his pass-protection skills and ball security -- two things Barber worked hard at during his career.
If anybody understands what the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Wilson will have to do in pass protection, it’s Barber. Barber may be more muscular than the still-maturing Wilson but he’s similar in size at 5-10 and was listed at 205 pounds when he played.
Barber said he was “horrible” at pass protection as a rookie and he explains why blocking for a young running back can be so difficult.
“There’s two reasons why,” Barber said. “You don’t know how to do it and you are scared to do it. Unlike in college where you have smaller linebackers who are really designed to drop in the zone and cover wide receivers in the slot, in the NFL you get these linebackers who are 250 pounds and can do those things, as well.
“It is intimidating when you give up 50 pounds to a guy,” Barber continued. “And [you have to] know how to hit them and be brave enough to do it. So it took some practice.”
Barber said he did alternative types of training such as boxing, wrestling and MMA-type fighting during the offseason to improve his body control and mindset about blocking.
The Giants played Wilson sparingly for most of the season after the first-round pick fumbled in the season opener against Dallas. Wilson showed how explosive he can be late in the season, rushing for 100, 55 and 75 yards in three of the final four games.
With Ahmad Bradshaw gone, Wilson and Brown will share carries in what Ingram hopes will be another “Thunder and Lightning” combo.
Barber thinks the duo can be the second coming of “Thunder and Lightning.” Barber loves Brown’s work ethic and wants to see Brown remain healthy. And so far, he likes what he has seen from Wilson but wants to see Wilson make strides in his second year.
“The one thing he needs to work on to be that complete player [that the Giants expect] is holding onto the ball, being able to recognize defenses and be like a second set of eyes for Eli [Manning],” Barber said. “Because you are the only one who has the perspective like a quarterback does.
“And be willing and able to protect him in the way of a 250-pounder and put your head under his chin and slow him down,” Barber added. “He may knock you over. ... I got bowled over plenty of times. But protecting your quarterback is the most important thing.”