It's been a long, winding road for Saquon Barkley in his attempt to get back to his dazzling rookie form.
He believes at this point he has his swagger and some much-needed trust in his knee back -- along with some newfound versatility within a new-look offense.
"The biggest difference would just be you had to go through a little bit the past couple years, so it just helped mold me, shape me to be the player I am right now and just coming into this camp, focusing on my body, working on my body, doing all the little things necessary to keep my body healthy," Barkley said Wednesday, via team transcript. "When you've got that, when you can trust your body, your confidence just grows. So I would say the difference was I was a way more confident player in college and early in my career than I was prior to the last year and then last year. Now I'm starting to get that back, starting to get that swagger back.
"You can't get too high on it because it's just minicamp right now, but all the little stuff in gaining confidence here, in this break that we have, hopefully catapults and pushes me through camp and to the regular season and beyond hopefully."
Since running and catching his way to AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2018, Barkley has missed 21 of a possible 49 games. Most notably, he missed 14 games in 2020 due to an ACL tear, but last season missed four contests with an ankle injury.
That aforementioned swagger is starting to return in large part because so too is the confidence Barkley has in his knee.
"I feel a lot better than I felt at this point last year," Barkley said. "I was rehabbing. My body feels good. My body feels strong. Feel like I got my strength back. Feel like I got my speed back. Feel like I can trust my knee again, trust myself to make plays and not think about it. Even when you feel like you trust yourself, like actually going back and watching film, it correlates with how you feel and what you're actually seeing, putting out there on the field.
"So yeah, my body feels really good, but just got to keep on it. Got to keep going, got to keep pushing myself, keep working to get stronger, get faster, but also maintain the strength and maintain being healthy throughout this break so I can come in at a high note for camp and for the season."
Returning to the field, as Barkley did last year, is one thing. Returning to form is another. It's not a novel concept for an athlete to finally feel like normal the second season back from a ligament tear. That's obviously the hope for Barkley, who was taken No. 2 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft and proceeded to excite and enthrall the Big Blue fan base with a league-leading 2,028 scrimmage yards as a rookie. He had 1,307 yards rushing, 91 receptions and 15 total touchdowns. Since then, though, injuries and perhaps the exhausting toll of playing for a struggling squad that's had three head coaches during his tenure have slow Barkley.
During organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, though, new Giants head coach Brian Daboll has had Barkley at running back and wide receiver, lining up in the slot and out wide. It has renewed excitement for Barkley and, no doubt, the fan base of the potential ahead.
"I'm very excited," Barkley said. "I think this offense is going to put our playmakers in position to make plays, whether it's post-snap, pre-snap, just giving us looks so we can good out there and let our talent go and work. I'm excited not only for myself but for all the playmakers on this team, for the offensive line, for the team in general. I feel like we have something special here, but like I said, like I always say, got to take one day at a time, can't look too far in the future, and now finish up minicamp and this little break that we have, make sure that we can capitalize on this break to catapult us and put us in the best position for the season and coming into camp."
Most certainly, 2018 feels like long ago for Barkley. But that winding comeback road has led to some excitement here in June. We'll see where it leads to in September.