EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It was as if there was an adult on the field with teenagers this weekend at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. That’s what it felt like watching New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley catch pass after pass while practicing alongside a good chunk of players who won’t be on NFL rosters this season.
Maybe it’s supposed to be that way. He’s the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft at a position where instant success is expected. Or maybe he is just that good. Either way the display in front of a swarm of cameras and reporters was expected and impressive.
“The first thing you see is he can catch the ball, certainly,” coach Pat Shurmur said.
This should come in handy. Shane Vereen led Giants running backs last year with 253 receiving yards. Thirty-two other running backs had more. Vereen (5.75) and Wayne Gallman (5.68) were 30th and 31st of the 32 qualifying running backs in yards per catch.
Barkley will help in these categories. He was tied for the most forced missed tackles after the catch (14) among draft-eligible running backs, according to Pro Football Focus. He averaged 11.7 yards per reception after 14.4 yards the previous year.
Catching the football looks natural for the 6-0, 230-pound running back. By my completely unofficial count while watching the practices stuck behind an obstructed view of 300-plus-pound men, Barkley didn’t drop a ball during Friday or Saturday’s workouts. Linebackers or safeties had no chance to stick with him as he burst and changed direction.
This should make Barkley a nightmare to guard, even when there are more starting-caliber NFL players on the field. It’s reason for the Giants to be excited, even if it was only rookie minicamp.
This weekend was the first look at entire Giants draft class in uniforms. They ran around, learned the plays and were given a crash course on professional life.
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It begins with essentials for the rookies. There is the weight room, the cafeteria, meeting room, even the bathroom. (No, really, these are things they’re learning.) Signs litter the building this time of year even for the most basic tasks, such as this is where the shuttle picks them up and returns them to the hotel. Or here is where you go to eat.
Very little that happens on the field at rookie minicamp should be viewed as an indicator of what is to come this season. It’s rookie minicamp. Players (most of whom won’t be on the roster this season) are learning the plays. It’s a mess. There are an inordinate number of botched snaps, interceptions and missed assignments. They’re lucky when a majority of the players on the field are running the correct play.
With that being said, it was still apparent that Barkley was on a different level than most of the participants. He stood out whenever the ball was in his hands.
What was maybe most impressive – at least in this shorts and shoulder pads setting – was the pass-catching ability. He caught more than a handful of passes during live drills on Saturday. It was an extension of what unfolded Friday during his first practice in Giants blue. It should extend into the summer and the season.
That area of the game shouldn’t be much different for Barkley than what he experienced at Penn State. It’s as a pass blocker that Shurmur thought would be the biggest adjustment. It is for most rookie running backs.
Barkley knows he’s a work in progress. He entered with an open mind.
“Just that I am a hard worker. That I am willing to learn and that I am coachable,” Barkley said of what he was trying to prove this past weekend. “Obviously, it is a new system for me and for everyone it is going to be different. Everyone will have struggles, but I am willing to learn and I am coachable.”
The transition might be difficult in some ways, but Barkley based on the early returns, he should be just fine catching passes out of the backfield.
The new Giants LBs
Third-round pick Lorenzo Carter seemed to be shadowed Saturday by defensive coordinator James Bettcher. Every time I turned around there was Bettcher near Carter and often in his ear offering instruction.
It’s becoming clear the Giants have big plans for their third-round pick. They have raved about his size (6-4, 250) and speed along with his skillset. It’s not just his pass rush ability off the edge that seems to have the Giants excited. What stood out to Shurmur from Friday’s practice was how Carter performed in 1-on-1 cover drills.
Carter, 22, represents perhaps the biggest change in the Giants defense this season. He’s their new breed of outside linebacker after switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense this offseason. Carter is made for the 3-4 defense. It’s the ideal scheme fit for him.
“Again, like we talk about what an edge player should be able to do; he should be able to obviously set the edge in the run game,” Shurmur said. “We expect him to be able to drop into coverage at times, and then certainly the element that he will bring to us also is his ability to pass rush, whether we play five on the line or we get into a four-man front.”
The rookie QB watch
While Barkley made it all look easy, it was a much more difficult Day 1 transition for quarterback Kyle Lauletta. His first few days in a Giants uniform were more of a struggle.
Lauletta had a botched exchange on his first snap Friday before bouncing back the rest of the practice. But Saturday was a struggle filled with multiple interceptions and wobbly passes as he tried to get acclimated to a new offense, receivers and battle the Meadowland winds.
This is going to be a process. Shurmur talked about there being more on a quarterback’s plate than any other position.
“Absolutely, I think that’s the nature of the position,” Lauletta said. “The quarterback has to be the leader of the group and he has to be intelligent, he has to know the offense and be able to help guys get lined up and that sort of thing. So just going through the playbook and trying to learn it as best I can right now.”
Patience will be a virtue with a fourth-round quarterback making the jump from Richmond to the NFL. Expecting too much, too quickly, would seem to be a mistake.
–Last year’s sixth-round pick Adam Bisnowati participated in the minicamp after spending most of last year on the practice squad. He spent a majority of his time at right guard. He was a tackle most of last summer and at Pittsburgh.
–The Giants signed veteran cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris after a weekend tryout, according to his agency, Goal Line Football. Lewis-Harris joins the wide-open mix at cornerback for the Giants after appearing in 33 career games for the Bengals and Ravens.