FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)The final day of joint practices between the Giants and Patriots featured the return of two stars hoping to be on the field when their teams begin the regular season.
Giants running back Saquon Barkley participated in 7-on-7 drills on Thursday for the first time this preseason, getting reps with the first team early in practice before joining the training staff for individual conditioning.
Wearing a non-contact jersey and working against only light resistance from the defense, he caught one pass – a short dump-off in the flat from Daniel Jones, trotting into the end zone. He also caught a few passes during a two-minute drill.
Still, they were the biggest steps to date in Barkley’s nine-plus months of rehabilitation from surgery on the torn ACL he suffered in his right knee during New York’s second game of last season.
”It felt good,” Barkley said. ”I feels good to be with the team. It feels good to get a couple of team reps. It’s just fun to be able to play football again. I feel like a little kid. And just taking it day by day.”
Patriots quarterback Cam Newton also returned to practice for the first time since what coach Bill Belichick called a ”misunderstanding” of NFL COVID-19 protocols. It required Newton to sit out a mandatory five-day waiting period for unvaccinated players after he attended an out-of-town doctor’s appointment over the weekend.
It stunted what had been a week in which the veteran had been trending toward securing the starting job.
It’s left open the door for rookie Mac Jones to perhaps overtake him with Sunday’s exhibition finale against New York this weekend remaining before New England’s Week 1 opener against Miami.
Giants coach Joe Judge reiterated Thursday that the plan right now is for Barkley to continue re-acclimating his body to football and slowly ramp up his workload. He said earlier this week that no player will be cleared to play until they experience live tackling, whether in preseason games or simulated in practice.
”I definitely want to get hit again,” Barkley said. ”But to me it’s not just the hitting. It’s just playing football. So even though I only took two reps and a couple in 7-on-7, those reps are so valuable right now and is going to help me in the long run.”
There’s still time for Barkley to get some live contact.
”I’d say there’s enough time to get a lot of things accomplished,” Judge said. ”the medical team will play a large part in where everybody is available for specific parts, but as we build in (Barkley has) consistently ramped up every week, increased his volume, increased his load.
”We’ll see how he handles that and go forward tomorrow.”
Jones took the first-team reps with Newton out on Wednesday and had probably his best day of camp.
Newton responded with a solid day Thursday, but Belichick said before practice that he was no closer to naming his starter to begin the season.
”Yeah. I don’t have a timetable on that, so I can’t tell you,” Belichick said. ”Not sure exactly how that will go.”
Newton tested positive during last season for COVID-19 and could be seen wearing a mask as he trotted onto the field before practice, a requirement of players who have not been fully vaccinated.
He took the first reps of the day with the projected first-team offense during 7-on-7 drills and quickly completed a TD pass in the corner of the end zone to Jakobi Meyers, who beat Rodarius Williams.
Newton only led one 11-on-11 series, but had two solid passes during the drive to set up a short TD run by Damien Harris.
Jones had a difficult initial drive leading the first unit, before capping a long drive with a TD pass to Kendrick Bourne.
Asked if he would be disappointed if he wasn’t named the starter against Miami, Jones said he’s trying not to worry about that.
”That’s beyond my control. I can just control my effort every day. I’m trying. I’m putting in a lot of work. And everyone else is, too,” he said. ”So, at the end of the day, there should be no drop-off because in the quarterback room something (offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) always talks about is that standard that we play to in New England and it doesn’t matter if you’re first string, second string, third string. When you go in, there’s a standard. And today I feel like I could have definitely done better with that. … We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
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