Giants Mailbag: Sources on Saquon Barkley's status ahead of training camp

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Saquon Barkley on field with ball in hand, helmet off in blue jersey
Saquon Barkley on field with ball in hand, helmet off in blue jersey

There are a ton of questions about the Giants as they get ready to open their second training camp under coach Joe Judge and try to build off a promising, but still 6-10 season. Here are a few of the ones you asked:

Is (Saquon) Barkley in line to play Week 1? And if not, what’s the timetable? -- @chrissennello

To quote Saquon himself: “I don’t know.” And if he doesn’t know …

Here’s what I do know: Sources in the Giants organization and around Barkley have consistently told me that his rehab is on track and on schedule for what a normal rehab from a torn ACL is supposed to be. That’s pretty vague, though, because doctors will tell you a normal recovery from ACL surgery could be anywhere from three to nine months. And obviously it’s a bit different for a pro athlete with a stronger body, but needing to place more demands on his repaired knee.

Barkley had surgery in late October. That was nine months ago. We’ve seen on videos he can run and do all sorts of athletic things. But there’s a difference between that and making violent cuts on a football field while being chased and hit by big, angry defensive players.

Since, as Barkley said, “rehab is never a straight line,” I don’t think the Giants or Barkley will commit to Week 1, but from what I’ve heard I do believe they expect him to be ready to play that game. Maybe it’ll be a limited role. Maybe he’ll get 25 carries. Who knows? There’s a lot of time between now and then. But if there are no setbacks in training camp – where he’ll likely sit out most practices and all preseason games – I would bet he’d be on the field when the Giants face the Denver Broncos at the Meadowlands on Sept. 12.

Which “projected” starter on the O-Line do you have the least confidence in going into the season? In other words, the Giants will be scouring the waiver wire looking for a replacement. -- @allend22

Do I have to give you just one? Actually, it’s an easy answer because we saw less of right tackle Matt Peart last season than any of the other projected starters for 2021. He only played about 150 snaps. Some of that was due to circumstance and some was injury, but even early on he wasn’t playing a lot.

I feel moderately good about most of the rest of the line. I think left tackle Andrew Thomas has a lot of talent. I was surprised by how well center Nick Gates played last year. I like the feistiness of guard Shane Lemieux, and I know some offensive line experts who think he can be good. I do have some questions about Will Hernandez, who at times seemed to be phased out last season, but I think he has potential, too.

I just haven’t seen enough of the 6-7, 318-pound Peart to know what he is. I know the Giants believe the third-round pick from UConn can be a good one. Last year I think they felt he needed to build up his strength. I assume he has, but I still wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up splitting time with veteran Nate Solder, at least at the start.

What is your O-Line starting lineup prediction week 1 for NYG? -- @nygmen631

That’s an interesting question, given how much rotating the Giants did along the line last season – something that’s really pretty unusual. I wonder a bit if they’ll start all their young guys, or if they’ll start some of the veterans and rotate the younger players in.

If I had to guess, or predict, I’d say they go with youth: Thomas at left tackle, Lemieux at left guard, Gates at center, Hernandez at right guard and Peart at right tackle.

There are two spots I’m just not sure about. I think there’s a real chance that Solder will earn the start over Peart, at least initially. I’m a little worried about Solder’s year off, though. I obviously don’t know what that did to his strength and conditioning. It also puts him a year behind Peart in learning the scheme.

The other spot is right guard, where it’s been hard to gauge the Giants’ feelings on Hernandez. They say they like him, but they sure seemed to bury him last year after he returned from his bout with COVID. It’s possible that just took more out of him physically than we knew, but the Giants never really said.

Anyway, they did sign veteran guard Zach Fulton so it’s possible he’ll push Hernandez. But right now I think the Giants know their best bet is to not tinker with what could be their line of the future. Put the five young guys together and let them play with each other as much as possible. That’s how to build chemistry along a developing offensive line.

Obviously it starts with (Blake) Martinez but what are you looking for from the other LBs in camp? How do you see the rotation playing out? Will they have a set group week in/out or will it be very opponent based? -- @GateDasinDog

One of the most remarkable things about the way defensive coordinator Patrick Graham ran his defense last season was how he managed to carve out roles for just about everyone. I was stunned that he found a way to use everyone from a deep group of young linebackers. Granted, some of them weren’t used much. But when they were, they were used effectively.

I don’t think that will change. Obviously, Martinez is the rock. He was on the field for 97 percent of the defensive snaps last season. And with the presumably healthy returns of Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, the addition of rookie Azeez Ojulari and veterans Ryan Anderson and Ifeadi Odenigbo there might be fewer snaps for guys like Tae Crowder, Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown.

But I wouldn’t be shocked if Graham finds situational roles for all, or at least most of them.

As for what I’m looking for, I’ll be watching three things: One is the health of Carter and Ximines. It wasn’t that long ago the Giants had high hopes for each. And Carter had a terrific summer last year and seemed like he was poised for a breakout season before he ruptured his Achilles.

Another is simply who will stand out. The guys making the most plays in camp and the preseason games will likely go to the top of the rotation. If someone is really standing out, it might even cause Graham to trim his rotation down, especially with the edge rushers if one proves to be particularly effective.

But I think I’m most curious to see how he uses those edge rushers. They are desperate for pass-rushing help for Leonard Williams. So how is he going to deploy guys like Ojulari, Carter and Odenigbo. Will he have multiple edge guys on the field at once? Does he prefer having one coming from behind Williams or on the opposite side? And I’m really curious about what they’re going to do with Odenigbo, who they hinted could play outside, inside, standing up or along the line. He has the chance to be a Justin Tuck-like X factor in this versatile scheme.

What role should we expect (Xavier) McKinney to have … three safeties in the regular D? -- @evancobbjazz

I feel the same way about this that I do the linebackers. The Giants have a lot of them and Graham seems to be a master and finding ways to use them all.

Will there be three safeties in the “regular D”? I suppose that depends on the definition of a “regular D”. This is such a passing league now, that nickel defense (with five defensive backs) is really as “regular” as it gets. My assumption is that when they have five DBs on the field it’ll be two corners (James Bradberry, Adoree’ Jackson), two safeties (Julius Peppers and McKinney) and then Logan Ryan in some sort of hybrid, corner/safety role.

They also may occasionally work in some of the young corners into a five-DB set, like Darnay Holmes and rookie Aaron Robinson. But I think the three safeties is their best and most versatile look. And the Giants are so high on McKinney that I think they want him on the field as much as possible. As soon as he was healthy, his snap counts took off last season. In the season finale against Dallas, he was on the field for 89.2 percent of the snaps.

In that game, by the way, Peppers was on the field for 97.6 percent of the snaps, Love was on the field for 99 percent, and Ryan was on the field for 100 percent. So basically, about 90 percent of the time they had all four of their safeties playing, though one of them was always in more of a cornerback role.

That’s telling. The addition of Jackson at corner probably means all four won’t ever see that much action together again. But I think it means that Graham will lean towards playing three of them most of the time.

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