FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley took the next step in his return from a torn ACL in his right knee when he participated in live drills during Thursday's joint practices with the New England Patriots.
The results were positive.
Barkley got eight reps against the Patriots' defense in team drills -- four in 7-on-7s, four in 11-on-11s -- wearing the red no-contact jersey usually reserved for quarterbacks. He caught three passes on three targets and scored a touchdown on a swing pass in his second snap of the practice during a red zone drill.
"I feel really good right now," said Barkley, who is in a race against time to be ready for Week 1.
The Giants open the season Sept. 12 at home against the Denver Broncos.
Barkley was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 9. He did not participate in team drills last week when the Giants had joint practices with the Cleveland Browns. He also missed Wednesday's practice with the Patriots as he attended to a personal matter.
This was the closest thing Barkley has experienced to real football since tearing the knee on Sept. 20 last year.
"It feels good being with the team, feels good to get a couple of team reps," he said. "It's just fun to be able to play football again. Feel like a little kid and just taking it day by day."
Barkley and the Giants have remained noncommittal about the running back's availability for Week 1. That remains unchanged.
The next step in the process would be for Barkley to shed the red jersey in live drills. That would require him to face contact for the first time since suffering the injury. It is mandatory before coach Joe Judge would put him in a game.
"I think every player has to have physical contact and experience the hits they're going to take in a game, before it becomes live, full speed in the regular season," Judge said. "The reality of the nature is, the speed of the game increases from preseason to regular season to postseason. That's just what happens. For us to put a player on the field without preparing him either through practice or preseason games without contact, we're putting that player in danger and at a disservice. I know a lot of people want to put their head in a box and pretend it doesn't exist, doesn't happen.
"The reality is when you go out there in Denver, Washington, Atlanta, that's live bullets now. They're flying around. They're trying to hit our players as hard as they can, as we are to them, make good form tackles and end a play. So, the best thing you can do for your players is prepare them for what they're going to see by putting them in controlled situations, experience the technique, let your body get used to the contact as close and collisions that are going to happen in a game, and then build on that as it goes to more 11-on-11 situations."
The Giants have a practice Friday and their preseason finale Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Patriots. It seems unlikely Barkley would jump straight into preseason action.
But the red jersey will be removed at practice soon enough if Barkley continues to make progress. That will be well received by the Giants' playmaker.
"I hate it. I hate it," Barkley said of putting on the red jersey while most of the rest of his teammates wore blue. "You've got to do what you've got to do. I said something in the locker room [Thursday], 'I don't care if it's pink, orange, yellow, whatever color is on -- as long as I'm going to be able to get out there. I'm going to take some reps for my team and that's the only thing that matters to me.'"
Barkley did experience some incidental contact when he caught a slant over the middle in a 11-on-11 drill late in practice. He brushed against Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower after making the play for a nice gain and being ruled down at the spot. It was vintage uber-competitive Barkley in that he didn't exactly agree with the ruling. He indicated the projected tackle would have been broken and it would have been an even bigger play.
Perhaps more importantly, Barkley didn't appear to think about the contact or the potential repercussions. He was finally just back to playing football with a clear mind.
"I think that's a positive thing because it's the first time I'm thinking about it, so I would say it's a good thing," Barkley said immediately after practice. "I really didn't think about that at all. When I caught the ball, I wasn't even thinking about my knee or anything. That kind of naturally happens. It's like I said before when we talked, the stuff where it's easier for me in the rehab process is when we were assimilating football stuff. So much stuff is going [on] out there on the football field, it really takes your mind off of it. I would say that's a positive sign."