EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — There’s no doubt halfback Saquon Barkley is the most-hyped rookie to join the New York Giants since future Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor donned the blue in 1981.
Within weeks of being taken second overall in the draft, the likable 21-year-old from Penn State had the hottest-selling jersey in the NFL. Seemingly half the kids wearing jerseys at training camp had his No. 26 look.
When he touched the ball in camp, there were ‘oohs and aahs’ from the fans, and visions of him going to the house in the regular season to help revive a franchise that went 3-13 last season, the second-worst record in the league.
Dream time is over. With the season opener at home against 2017 AFC runner-up Jacksonville on Sunday, it’s time for Barkley to live up to the hype, just as Taylor did after also being taken with the No. 2 overall pick.
“I just want to play,” Barkley said after a short practice Monday. “It’s finally here. The season is finally here. I didn’t get to play as much as I would like in the preseason, but now it’s here and it counts now, so I am just excited to get on the road. You can tell, the energy of the team is high and we’re all just excited for this game and this season.”
Barkley had four carries in the preseason for 43 yards. The number was originally reported as five after the first preseason game against Cleveland, but an official review silently changed it.
It stayed at four after Barkley slightly strained a hamstring on Aug. 13 and didn’t play in the final three preseason games. It was a precautionary move.
“The one week I didn’t get that much practice, but after that I was back on my normal schedule,” he said. “I feel pretty confident and I feel pretty good. I just have to continue to attack practice and get better.
For the next week, Barkley plans to immerse himself in watching videotapes of the Jaguars’ defense, a group that last season was the best in franchise history and is loaded with Pro Bowl players.
Barkley has set some personal goals, but he hopes to focus on his next play.
“I’m not a numbers type of guy who says I need this many yards, this many touchdowns,” Barkley said. “My goal is to attack every single day and get better every single day. The rest of the stuff will take care of itself.”
Barkley isn’t sure how many tickets he will need for his NFL debut. His parents and his family are coming to MetLife Stadium and, of course, there might be some surprise visitors he needs to accommodate.
New coach Pat Shurmur caught Barkley off-guard when he talked about the return game Monday. The Giants waived returners Kalif Raymond and Hunter Sharp over the weekend and were awarded Kaelin Clay on waivers. Clay has handled return work in games and would seem to be the best option Sunday.
If they are ready, Shurmur said that Odell Beckham Jr. and Barkley would be options. He did not mention Cody Latimer, who also has experience as a returner.
“I’ll be eager to definitely be in the mix of kickoff return. I did it in college,” said Barkley, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season. “I was able to help my team out in college in that area. If they, or if I show that I’m capable of doing that for the Giants, why not? It’s definitely something I feel comfortable with.”
Don’t count on it this early in the season.
NOTES: LB Olivier Vernon (ankle) did not practice Monday. Shurmur hopes to have him back Wednesday. … TE Evan Engram was on the field but remains in the concussion protocol. … With Davis Webb being cut, Shurmur would not say who is No. 2 behind QB Eli Manning. He hinted it might be Alex Tanney instead of rookie Kyle Lauletta because he likes have a veteran behind the starter.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)