New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley practices for first time in more than a month

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley returned to practice Monday for the first time since injuring an ankle more than a month ago during a loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Barkley has been nursing a low ankle sprain that took longer than expected to heal. He missed the Giants' past four games.

But on Monday, Barkley seemed to be moving well and without any limitations. There is realistic hope, according to sources, that he could be ready by next Monday night when the Giants, fresh off their bye week, play on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It was awesome just having his presence, even in the huddle," tight end Evan Engram said. "He's one of our biggest leaders. Our biggest captains. It's just good to have him back. I know he's been itching to get back. He's going to stay the course, keep working and keep doing what he can to be ready."

Barkley might have had a chance to get back Nov. 7 when the Giants beat the Las Vegas Raiders if not for a false positive COVID-19 test. That kept him from working out and forced him to miss a pair of midweek practices.

At that point, given that he had already been sidelined for such a lengthy period of time and had previously returned from a torn ACL at the beginning of the year, the Giants decided to pull back and focus on him returning after the bye week.

"He lost a lot last week not having the availability with the COVID stuff," coach Joe Judge said before Monday's practice. "That set him back a little bit. I wouldn't say set him back physically, but in terms of his timetable and not having him ready for that game.

"But optimistic we'll have him out there [at practice Monday] and see how he moves."

Barkley has missed 18 of the Giants' past 23 games because of the knee and ankle injuries. He has 54 carries for 195 yards and two touchdowns this season.

The sprained ankle came just as he appeared to be rounding into form from a serious knee injury. Barkley had a 54-yard touchdown reception against the New Orleans Saints in Week 4 and then rushed for the game-winning score in overtime.

The following week his ankle turned sideways and ballooned immediately when he inadvertently stepped on the foot of Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis in the first quarter of that contest.