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The most significant piece of advice Adrian Peterson has given Saquon Barkley during his rehabilitation from ACL surgery has little to do with his physical health.
Long the poster boy for pulling off a miraculous recovery from the knee injury, Peterson has stressed the importance of thinking nothing is impossible in that return.
It's why Barkley insisted Thursday morning that, when it comes to his comeback, there is "no doubt in my mind" he will not only be the same player - he'll be even better.
"That's the mindset - I feel like you should never go into anything in life with a negative approach," Barkley said. "I think a positive mindset is going to be a thing that helps you get through a lot of things in life, and that's the mindset I'm going to have. That I know - not just that I think, I know - that I'm going to be able to come out and be a better player. That's what I'm gonna challenge myself with."
The Giants are riding a three-game winning streak, which has allowed them to claim a share of first place in the NFC East. Barkley is thrilled for that success. His only wish is that he could be in uniform and doing his best to get this team back to the playoffs.
And despite the disappointment and frustration that he won't be, Barkley was quick to offer this reminder Thursday morning of his role with the Giants as a captain, maybe even to himself at times: "I'm still a part of it."
Barkley's road to recovery from a serious knee injury began well before the Giants' star running back underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in Los Angeles on Oct. 30.
It's the reason why Barkley waited 40 days between the day he was hurt against the Chicago Bears in Week 2 and actually going under the knife for the procedure that was performed by renowned specialist Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute on the West Coast.
The delay was done not just to reduce inflammation in the injured knee before the procedure, which is common. The belief here is that improving the strength of the knee before the procedure helps accelerate and improve the rehabilitation and recovery post-surgery. The more range of motion in the joint prior to the procedure, the better the prognosis.
The wait also allowed his MCL to heal on its own, and that also helped doctors repair his meniscus without the need of a more extensive procedure.
Barkley also worked around the schedule of ElAttrache, the surgeon and team physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers, so he was in the World Series bubble in Arlington, Texas, until late October when the Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays to claim the title.
There was a period of mourning, so to speak, as one would imagine with Barkley having to deal with the sudden end to his season.
"I think so far I've been doing pretty well, I'd imagine there are going to be some more dark places coming up," Barkley said. "I would say, really, probably the darkest time for me was right when it happened. ... I kinda had a feeling what had happened, and honestly, that kinda brings you to tears. It's tough in that moment, I know how hard I worked, I know how hard we worked as a team and what I wanted to help this team do this year, and I knew that was all taken away at that moment. But, you've kinda got to suck it up. You can't cry about it too long. You can't complain about it too long. You've gotta move on."
Doctors generally say an athlete can return in 6-9 months after ACL surgery, and the Giants - without officially placing a timetable on Barkley - believe he has a chance to be ready for training camp next August with an eye on the 2021 season if all goes well.
Barkley would not establish a timetable publicly, however.
"Just the fact that the game that I love and been playing since I was 7 is taking away from me a little bit, that definitely is challenging," Barkley said. "But I'm just trying to be as supportive as I can, I love seeing my guys out there balling, doing their thing, especially the way we're playing right now. So that definitely makes life a lot easier ... Yes, I'm a competitor, and like you said, I would love to have this over yesterday, but that's not the case."
Peterson, the future Hall of Famer, set the standard for which all NFL players shoot when it comes to recovering from ACL injuries. The current Detroit Lion tore his ACL on Christmas Eve 2011 and returned to the field the following season to not only lead the league in rushing, but win NFL MVP honors.
Barkley and Peterson have been in contact since the injury on several occasions, the the latter connecting the 23-year-old with his trainer. They spoke extensively the day before Barkley underwent surgery.
"Obviously, when you hear this injury, the first person that comes to mind, is the season that AP had," Barkley said. "The day before surgery, I got to chat with AP for a very long time and I could see myself continuing to chat with him throughout the whole process."
Typically, athletes in recovery from ACL surgery are cleared for sport-specific activities in six months, a timeline if applicable here would allow for Barkley to begin ramping up his football training in April-May during the NFL's peak offseason training period around the time OTAs (offseason team activities) have been held prior to COVID-19 changes.
Barkley is widely considered among the best at his position in the NFL and one of the most popular players in the league. The Giants selected Barkley No. 2 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he has been the center piece of their offense.
Barkley was with the Giants despite being placed on injured reserve. He was present in meetings and traveled with the team to road games in Los Angeles and Philadelphia as coach Joe Judge acknowledged the importance of his leadership and presence even though he was not in uniform on the field.
That has continued since he returned from surgery with Barkley shifting his rehab to the Giants' training facility in East Rutherford. He expressed rave reviews of the Giants' offensive line performance in recent weeks, and praised Wayne Gallman - "the Wayne Train," he said with a smile - for the way he has stepped up in Barkley's absence.
Barkley essentially played five quarters of his third season, finishing with 19 carries for 34 yards and no touchdowns prior to the injury. The 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year also fought through a high ankle sprain last season, topping 1,000 yards for the second straight campaign, although his performance was hampered, limiting his availability to 13 games.
"Sundays are the toughest days. But the last three weeks, they've been pretty good," Barkley said, adding: "I'm a big believer in taking care of the things you can take care of, control the things you can control. ... I'm not Superman, I never viewed myself as Superman, I guess you could say. I wouldn't say I put that on myself. I had an injury last year. I was able to overcome that and I have another injury this year, it's another challenge that I have to be ready to face."