One day after missing the Giants’ first joint practice with the New England Patriots for personal reasons, Barkley, who tore his ACL in September but didn’t undergo surgery until late October, rejoined his teammates for his most active practice of the summer.
The former No. 2 overall pick took a significant step in his recovery by participating in team drills, catching three passes, including two in 11-on-11 sessions during a two-minute drill. The Giants running back was on the field for eight live reps, appearing comfortable in the joint practice setting. He even planted his foot and cut upfield on his surgically repaired knee.
“Within the realm of what I was doing, I was 100 percent,” Barkley said. “I didn’t get to really open up. They kind of blew the whistle.”
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Barkley told reporters Thursday that he felt “really good” and wasn’t consciously thinking about his knee or avoiding contact on the field.
“I would say that’s a positive sign,” Barkley said.
There’s still one more hurdle for the star running back to clear before he’s ready for Week 1, and that’s shedding the red non-contact jersey (that the running back said Thursday he “hates”) and getting hit.
“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,” Giants head coach Joe Judge told reporters Wednesday. “The reality 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.”
Still, after Barkley began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is making promising strides just over two weeks before the start of the 2021 season.
Barkley was PFF’s fourth-highest-graded running in 2018 when he was a rookie. He missed three games with a high ankle sprain in 2019 and dropped to 22nd among backs. He played just two games before tearing his ACL in 2020 and carried the ball 19 times for just 34 yards.
Patriots quarterback Cam Newton also returned to practice Thursday after missing five days due to a “misunderstanding” regarding the NFL’s COVID-19 rules. He went 2-of-3 in 7-on-7 drills and 4-of-7 with a throwaway and a batted pass in 11-on-11 drills. Newton also was nearly picked off by Giants cornerback James Bradberry on a target to wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson.
Rookie Mac Jones, who was exceptional Wednesday in a practice against the Giants with Newton absent, went 1-of-2 in 7-on-7 drills and 10-of-21 with an interception (that was negated by an offsides penalty) in 11-on-11s.
Jones wasn’t nearly as sharp as he was Wednesday, but he also didn’t receive much help from his teammates. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor bobbled a pass near the sideline and came down out of bounds on a pass from Jones in 7-on-7s. During full-team drills, wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, running back Damien Harris and tight end Jonnu Smith dropped passes. Jones also had a pass batted at the line of scrimmage.
The play of the day came near the goal line when Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, who has been New England’s top pass-catcher throughout training camp and is set for a major role in 2021, ripped the ball away from Giants safety Xavier McKinney on a contested catch. Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who also has impressed in recent practices, also made a toe-tapping grab at the back of the end zone on a target from Jones.
Giants safety Logan Ryan picked off Jones on a passing attempt targeting Smith. Patriots outside linebacker Josh Uche set up camp in New York’s backfield and would have had at least three sacks if contact was allowed. He also drew a holding penalty.
Patriots center David Andrews and cornerback Jonathan Jones didn’t finish practice. It was another sweltering day at Gillette Stadium, and Andrews’ departure was heat-related. Jones appeared to be favoring his left foot or ankle. The Patriots also acquired cornerback Shaun Wade, a 2021 fifth-round draft pick, from the Baltimore Ravens in a trade, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.