Bears bracing to face ‘full speed’ Saquon Barkley

When Bears safety Eddie Jackson says he’s happy to see Giants running back Saquon Barkley at his best again, two years after Barkley suffered a torn ACL against the Bears at Soldier Field, he really means it.

“He’s back to being himself and I’m happy to see it,” Jackson said. “He got hurt on a play I was tackling him. It was one of those freak accidents. I felt bad. To see him doing what he’s doing now is a sight to see.”

Barkley tore the ACL in his right knee when Jackson drove him out of bounds on a six-yard gain on the first play of the second quarter in that Week 2 game in 2020. Barkley, the second overall pick of the 2018 draft who rushed for 1,307 yards as a rookie and 1,003 yards in 2019, was out for the season.

“I apologized to him,” Jackson said. “I hit him up on Instagram. I texted him. I told him my apologies. I don’t ever play this game to hurt anybody. It was one of those freak accidents.

“I went through it [a broken leg at Alabama], so I know how it is. It’s tough, especially the battle rehabbing to get back. Really it’s a two-year process. Seeing how fast he came back, it was kind of, ‘Oh, it’s freak.”

Barkley returned for the 2021 season opener, but was still in recovery mode. He rushed for 593 yards on 162 carries, just 3.7 yards per carry. His longest run was 41 yards — a big drop for a back with runs of 78, 68, 68, 68 and 67 yards in his first two years in the NFL.

It didn’t take long for Barkley to find his old groove already this season. On his first carry of the third quarter in the Giants’ opener against the Titans, Barkley broke free for a 68-yard run that set up his four-yard touchdown run. With the Giants trailing 20-13 with four minutes left, Barkley added a 33-yard run that led to a Daniel Jones touchdown pass — then caught a two-point conversion pass to give the Giants a 21-20 victory.

Barkley finished with 18 carries for 164 yards. Through three games, he is second in the NFL with 317 rushing yards on 53 carries –a 6.0 average that is reminiscent of Barkley’s rookie season.

“Full speed,” Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “He’s a scary guy [with] his home run ability.”

“He’s [back to] doing what he’s been doing,” Jackson said. ‘He’s explosive. He’s elusive. His change of direction is crazy. H’s fast, big body. He gives you the best of both worlds –he can out run you and make you miss and he can run over you.”

Barkley will be a challenge for a Bears defense that ranks 30th in rushing yards allowed (157.0 yards) and 19th in yards per carry (4.8). With Roquan Smith coming off a big game against the Texans, the Bears’ defense feels it’s just getting started. Barkley will be a huge test.

“I think it will be a great matchup for the defense, a great matchup for me to be able to put some numbers up with a good back like Saquon — get some nice tackles on him. So I’m looking forward to it.”

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