Giants spring observations: On Saquon Barkley, Brian Daboll, Kadarius Toney, Julian Love, Evan Neal and more

Saquon Barkley’s confidence, health and creative usage were the most noticeable positives of the Giants’ on-field spring program.

Barkley lined up more often as a receiver than he did as a running back during open OTAs and minicamp. When he did start in the backfield, he often went in motion to the slot or outside.

Barkley said he hasn’t moved around the formation like this “since college,” and when he reviewed his Penn State film for a refresher course, he noticed something else exciting that he thinks will translate this fall.

“I was a way more confident player in college and early in my career than I was prior to [2020] and then last year,” Barkley said last week, after the second and final practice of mandatory minicamp. “Now I’m starting to get that back, starting to get that swagger back.”

Barkley, 25, is entering a critical season for his own career. He is playing on the fifth and final year of his rookie contract with no security thereafter. His injuries got in the way of generating the type of production and leverage in prior years that could have gotten a new deal done.

The Giants’ new regime doesn’t profile as the type that intends to pay a running back big money. But they need Barkley to have a big season to win games in 2022, and Barkley has everything to gain — either with the Giants or another suitor — by having a monster year.

So it’s encouraging to hear Barkley say: “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.”

And it’s entertaining that Barkley hasn’t missed an opportunity to remind all his doubters of his new mantra: “When the tables turn, just make sure you’re on the side of that table. Just stay on that side.”

DABOLL’S INJURY MANAGEMENT

It was alarming to see Brian Daboll eliminate the competitive period from his second minicamp practice and then cancel the third practice altogether.

Other teams have trimmed off an OTA or minicamp practice here and there, or lightened players’ loads in certain spots. But the Giants are not any other team.

They are a reeling franchise with a lot of young players, a lot of new players, a new front office and coaching staff, and a lot of injured starters. Quarterback Daniel Jones needs to perform this fall or he’s headed to free agency.

They need all the practice they can get to compete this fall.

All of this is why Daboll’s light player load has to be connected directly to an overriding medical plan to manage the organization’s rampant injuries. Because there is not a football rationale for limiting their on-field work.

Daboll canceled his final press conference of minicamp, so he never answered to this decision. But prior to his last minicamp practice, Daboll did hint at a load management plan when asked about having so many players, including wideout Kenny Golladay, limited in red jerseys.

“Guys that we’ve got to take a little bit off them on June 8 so they’re ready to go fully on July 26, I think that’s being smart,” Daboll said. “All we’re trying to do is try to be as healthy as we can be when training camp gets here.”

Daboll said the Giants’ decision on how to manage injuries has been “very collaborative,” which hints at significant input and governance from the medical staff — the same staff that’s been in place with the organization for a good while.

“Certainly, I have ideas, but I’m not a doctor or a trainer,” Daboll said. “But sports science, analytics, I think there’s really good give-and-take. As a coach, you always want to have as many reps as you can get.

“Probably 10 years ago, I’d have been like let’s come out here and do a thousand reps, but I think it’s important to get all the information and make good, educated decisions,” the coach added. “I learned a lot in my time at Buffalo, how they did things in that regard, the reps, what we did with the players, and it really paid off.”

It is a separate question to wonder if the best way to get an injured player healthy is to have him do nothing or very little, as many of the injured red jersey players did at points this spring.

The full injury blame no longer lies with the previous regime, though. Top pick Kayvon Thibodeaux has been on the shelf for a while after a practice injury in OTAs.

Other players sustained undisclosed injuries at some point this spring, too, including CB Aaron Robinson, WR Collin Johnson, edge Quincy Roche (seemingly aggravating his previous issue), DB Jarren Williams, CB Darnay Holmes and CB Darren Evans.

Daboll also declined to reveal if wideout Kadarius Toney’s knee issue was a new one, and the timing of Golladay’s undisclosed injury is unknown, too.

Bottom line: the Giants are not healthy. Left tackle Andrew Thomas’ slow rehab from his second left ankle surgery in two years is probably the most concerning to watch in person.

Still, did that justify shutting down the spring early? Time will tell.

KT: NO WORDS

Toney, the Giants’ 2021 first-round pick. has not been made available to the local media yet this calendar year. I believe the last interview he did with the local media was on Nov. 10 of last season.

So we still haven’t had an opportunity to ask Toney directly for his reaction to the organization making calls looking to trade him earlier this offseason, among other developments.

His only noteworthy comment during minicamp week was an Instagram post that read: “They praise and meat ride a basketball n—a makin musik … But be on my [picture of an eggplant]. … [pictures of corn on the cob] “cornball” [laughing emoji].”

The Giants had a controversial player on their roster last year that they never made available to the media: offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson.

Toney has invited distractions and similarly has been kept away from the cameras. But he’ll be an important piece to this team if he’s on the roster and healthy this fall.

“I think it’s huge to have him,” Daniel Jones said last week. “I think in the times he was out there last year you saw what he can do, how special he can be with the ball in his hands. I think that adds a lot to our offense to have him out there. We need him.

“I think he’s done a great job in meetings, done a great job picking it up and learning this system. He can be a special player and we’ll certainly need him.”

The Giants expect Toney to be ready to go following an offseason arthroscopic procedure on his knee. As it is, Toney’d final lasting image of the spring was doing rehab work on the sideline with no shirt on at Daboll’s loose and light final practice.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

I think safety Julian Love should and will be a captain on this year’s Giants team. He comes across as the locker room’s conscience in many ways. He stepped forward after last December’s laugher in Philadelphia to challenge his teammates: “The guys who are ready to work, who are ready to put this team first, will show up come Wednesday.” And he stuck his neck out last week to say “I didn’t think we were given enough of a chance to compete” in that final light minicamp practice. Logan Ryan’s release was intentional to change the locker room leadership dynamic under this new regime. Love, who profiles for now as the starting strong safety, has the intangibles to step into that role …

As loud a personality as Thibodeaux has, we learned recently that he is not the alpha personality of the outside linebackers room. That would be veteran Jihad Ward, who said of Thibodeaux: “I’m on his ass. I’m on him.” Ward referred to the outside backers as “my guys” and said of Thibodeaux: “He’ll definitely be ready, and I can’t wait.” Ward also said “we need more culture in here,” meaning with the Giants as a whole. Asked to explain what he meant, he said: “When you come here ready to work, it’s time to go. It’s like Navy Seal type stuff. So you’ve got to just come together in order to win games. I can’t come to Kayvon and not know anything about him. You’ve got to know my background, know his background. It’s deeper than that. So everybody has just got to come together as one. I’m more of a person, you ride for me, I ride for you. So if you ain’t riding for me, then I can’t be around you.” …

Expect GM Joe Schoen to continue seeking depth reinforcement at positions like running back, inside linebacker and defensive back (corner/safety). This will be a constant process for Schoen, up to and through cutdown day, to assemble a roster that not only can compete but also will withstand inevitable starter injuries. …

Evan Neal ran sprints by himself on the Giants’ back field after both minicamp practices. That’s the team’s biggest player, and a No. 7 overall pick and rookie, putting in extra work daily. Encouraging work ethic to go along with the right tackle’s impressive talent and physique as the Giants break until the start of training camp in late July.

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