Saquon Barkley almost became a football coach this offseason.
Take a deep breath, Giants fans. The 23-year-old sensation wasn’t considering super-early retirement, as some running backs do.
Quite the opposite, actually. Barkley was on a quest for self-improvement — back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons but no playoff appearances is unfulfilling — that would have led back to his alma mater.
“Saquon reached out to me and his plan was to come and spend spring ball with us as a coach,” Penn State coach James Franklin told The Post. “He wanted to sit in all of the coaches meetings to see how we came up with the game plan, how we watch film and all the things we discuss.
“He wanted to be able to learn football and view it through a different lens because he thought that would help his growth, and he’d be able to go back and have a bigger impact with the Giants. He could see how coaches assess things and why.”
Penn State’s spring camp was scheduled for March 18 through April 18, but never got underway and was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Big Ten Conference has a ban on all athletic activities through Monday and it is not known when or how college football will return.
Barkley planned to spend as long as his other obligations would permit inside the program. Instead he settled for a guest appearance on a team-wide conference call last month.
Franklin wasn’t surprised by Barkley’s unique request. It speaks to one of his defining characteristics.
“He is very curious about a lot of different things,” Franklin said. “Throughout Saquon’s college experience and afterwards, he is very observant. He is asking a lot of questions. Whenever your best player is also your strongest culture-driver behind the scenes, it’s a recipe for success.”
This is the first time in Barkley’s football career from high school onward that he is adjusting to a new staff. Head coach Joe Judge replaced Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett succeeded Mike Shula and is installing a very different playbook, and running backs coach Burton Burns took over for Craig Johnson.
Barkley has split his training time between both coasts and participated in the Giants’ voluntary virtual OTAs, as well as put in extra side work with quarterback Daniel Jones.
“He could’ve worked out in our facility and it would’ve been great for our program and our players to be around him,” Franklin said. “He wanted to really attack and approach football from a different perspective thinking that would help him be a better player but also have a bigger leadership impact with the Giants.”