Saquon Barkley sees his game going to a new, improved level

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, last season was about reestablishing himself as a great player. This season is about taking it to the next level.

Barkley insists he’s not fixated on proving the Giants and the rest of the league wrong about their view on paying running backs. He’s taking a different approach heading into a Week 1 matchup with the rival Dallas Cowboys.

“I kind of see last year was kind of like a rookie year, I guess,” Barkley said. “Not my rookie year obviously, it was Year 5. But being back on the scene and showing what I am capable of doing and now how can I take it to another level. Whether that is in-between the tackles, outside the tackles catching the ball, running routes, showing why I was drafted No. 2. I felt I was able to do that last year.

“But now I want to take it to a whole other level and be special. Everyone I talk to about the legacy and the names on these walls and in this locker room and that indoor facility, that’s what I want to be a part of. Hopefully I can start off to a great start and go on a high note in Week 1.”

It helps that Barkley showed up to training camp on time despite not being able to reach a long-term deal with the Giants earlier in the summer. He’s playing on a one-year adjusted franchise tag that could be worth up to $11 million.

Barkley was intent on focusing on work, not the contract throughout the summer and season.

“For me all that’s in the past, like I said. Once I made that mindset to come here you have to be mature about it. No hard feelings about it,” Barkley said. “So now, my back is against the wall again. I have to go out there and prove it. I’m going to go out there and play my heart out, compete at a high level, do what I do best, not just for myself but for my teammates.”

In order to take his game to the next level, Barkley told ESPN he dropped five or six pounds this offseason in part because of his desire to be more effective and dynamic in the passing game. He played last season at close to 232 pounds, but has been at 226 or 227 pounds this summer.

“[I] feel like it’s better for just my health also,” Barkley said. “Just the wear and tear on your body being lighter helps. Focused a lot on my speed and my mechanics with [trainer] Nick [Hill] in Arizona. So I feel that dropping weight will help me too.”

Barkley, of course, does have an injury history. He’s dealt with multiple ankle injuries and tore an ACL early in the 2020 season. Last year was the first since his rookie year that went uninterrupted by injury.

Still, Barkley participated in every practice this summer. Coach Brian Daboll considered the preseason to be his “vet days”, when Barkley dressed but did not play. Barkley did not make an appearance in any of the three preseason games.

While it did not appear that his role in the passing game changed much during practices this summer, the team does seem open to using him differently this year. Barkley tied for the team lead with 59 catches last season, but had a career-low 5.9 yards per catch

“Yeah, again, we’re always improving any of those little areas. Whether it’s a running back wanting to be a little more out in the pass game or a receiver wanting to be more involved in the run game -- all the different positions, you want to improve on each player. If they have that and we think it’s a strength that we can build on and use them, then we will,” offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said. “If we don’t, then we won’t.”

Barkley mentioned on “Inside the NFL” this week that the game has transcended to throwing the ball more. Running backs need to evolve.

The veteran running back believes he’s in a better spot in Year 2 under Daboll and Kafka. He noted the Giants’ improved weapons, beginning with tight end Darren Waller who he said was a “monster and a beast” that will help divert attention from the backfield.

It has Barkley eager to get to Sunday night and the start of this season.

“We’re excited,” he said. “Sunday night. Prime time. In MetLife Stadium. So it’s fun.”