One was Martin O’Malley, a foot and ankle specialist who consults for the Giants, and the other was one of the nation’s most respected voices, Robert Anderson in Green Bay. Neither gave him a timetable of recovery for a high-ankle sprain.
And yet, within a few days of his injury, reports were everywhere. NFL Network said he was out a month. Some reports predicted he could be out as much as eight weeks. He did not like that.
“How can anyone tell me how long I’m supposed to be out?” Barkley asked NFL Network’s Kim Jones in a quiet moment at his locker on Friday, admitting it frustrated him. “Maybe because of my competitive nature. How are you going to tell me (that)? No one was in the doctor’s office (with me), no one has seen my ankle, everyone’s different. I think an important thing that Dr. Anderson and Dr. O’Malley said was, ‘You treat the patient, not the injury.’ When I heard that, I just took it to heart. … Everyone’s putting these messages out there and no one heard from my mouth that I’m out six-to-eight weeks. That made no sense at all.”
Thanks to his freakish nature and his diligent rehab, Barkley is on a path to destroying those lengthy timetables. Injured on Sept. 22, Barkley was ruled out this week against the Vikings. That’s two games. But there is a realistic chance he’s ready to play against the Patriots on Thursday night, and at the very least, he will be good in Week 7 against the Cardinals.
“He 100 percent could play (Sunday), but I agree with the plan by the team to take it slow given he is so young. No need to rush him at this point in the season,” said Ryan Flaherty, Nike’s Senior Director of Performance, who works with Barkley. “If this was the playoffs, then he would be playing Sunday. No doubt.”
It was a good sign that he returned to practice in a limited fashion on Friday. Previously, he had worked on the side but in view of reporters. Barkley, in this exclusive interview with NFL Network, was asked if it’s possible that he plays on Thursday.
“I think so. I think so,” Barkley said. “Just continue to attack rehab in the right way and when it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. … I mean, that would be awesome. Not just Tom Brady but the fact that it’s the Patriots. Are they the best team in the NFL right now? You could argue that, right? Most people would probably say they are the best in the NFL. So, to be able to have the opportunity to play against a team like that, on Thursday night, go to New England, would be dope.”
How has he done it? Barkley has put in the work.
The treatment players arrive first, and Barkley is among them. His focus, he said, is “to work on balance, make sure you have the flexibility, the dorsiflexion, the strength in the ankle.” Barkley often works with Flaherty, the speed coach and trainer, and one of his lieutenants Owen Lennon has been on-site on a daily basis.
“Saquon isn’t human,” Flaherty said. “And we did around-the-clock rehab as opposed to most athletes that will throw on a boot and rest it for four-to-six weeks. That’s actually the worst thing you can do.” Barkley explained that when he wasn’t out on the practice field, the hours he spent on rehab were “a lot. It was a lot.” At the facility early, at home with a physical therapist, it was constant. The focus has been on not only strengthening the ankle but on balance.
“Things you got to do to isolate your muscles — you’re not just doing squats, you’re doing single-leg squats,” Barkley said. “You’re doing stuff with balance that’s helping you; balance is key, especially at the running back position.”
The goal has been to restore his dorsiflexion as quickly as possible to get the blood flowing in his lower ankle to promote healing. They sped up the recovery by working on him around the clock, doing cold and heat contrast therapy and then more movement.
When Barkley arrived back home, Lennon was there waiting for manual therapy. Interestingly, the swelling was minimal, anyway, and Barkley got after it. Flaherty also said that because of the work Barkley had done in the offseason, his body responded quickly.
“He’s healing like nothing I’ve seen in 15 years,” Flaherty said. “It’s not normal at all. Even for an NFL athlete. We trained really hard this offseason and especially around single-leg stability and balance. My goal with all of my athletes is to limit the damage caused by injury by training really hard, knowing that injury is 100 percent going to happen. It’s the nature of the NFL. Our goal isn’t to prevent injury, which is impossible… it’s to limit the severity of the injury.”
Thanks to the work done by Barkley and his team, Thursday against the Patriots is in view. Meanwhile, the Giants won without him last week, at least allowing him to take a deep breath. “I know that we have a great team,” Barkley said. “Yes, I would love to be back out there, but when the time is right, when they believe it’s the right time for me, I’ll be ready to go.”