EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Two weeks into his NFL career, Andrew Thomas has already faced a gauntlet of great pass rushers.
On opening night, it was Pittsburgh's Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt. Last week in Chicago, Thomas matched up against Robert Quinn and Khalil Mack.
Next up for the Giants is a San Francisco 49ers team that arguably began the season with the NFL's finest defensive front. But Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford and Dre Greenlaw are sidelined with injuries, forcing the Niners to turn to their practice squad and free agents for reinforcements.
The talent, production and depth of San Francisco's front has been substantially depleted. But don't try to convince Thomas that he and his fellow offensive linemen will have an easier time Sunday afternoon in MetLife Stadium.
"They are very talented on their defensive line," Thomas said. "They put a lot of faith in their front seven, all those guys are talented. They brought in some guys recently that will be up there to play for Sunday. We just have to be prepared for a very talented defensive line across the board."
And the 49ers must be ready for Thomas, the fourth-overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft who has been the starting left tackle since the Giants' first practice. And though he had no preseason games to help get acclimated to the NFL, he has impressed his teammates and coaches.
"The athleticism always stands out with him, whether it was the tape coming out of Georgia or early in training camp when we got to see him in person," coach Joe Judge said. "The athleticism definitely stands out, but I'd say how mentally tough he is (has impressed him the most)."
"I think he's handled it really well," offensive line coach Marc Colombo said. "He's gone against great pass rusher and he's held his own for the most part. There's a lot of room for improvement and Andrew knows this."
The soft-spoken and modest Thomas isn't taking any victory laps. He concurs with Colombo - he has much room for growth and lot of work to do.
"The biggest thing I have been working on is just my hands in pass pro," Thomas said. "Being more consistent with them with my strength and my punch, that's something that I'm still working on. I made improvements but I'm still trying to get better every day.
"In practice we're working on our technique, that's the biggest thing we have been working on. I think we have the mentality to be physical and move guys off the ball. We've been working on our technique making sure we're refining our technique to make sure we move guys off the ball, we get off to our linebackers, things of that nature."
Facing excellent players like Dupree and Quinn will help accelerate his development.
"It's really good for him to get these types of pass rushers right off the bat," Colombo said, "because his whole career is going to be against these types of pass rushers."
"This guy has had some really elite pass rushers over him the last couple weeks," Judge said.
"It's only going to be the same thing throughout the remainder of our schedule. Everybody is very talented. But I think the way his career has started already with who he's facing off of, he understands there are no easy days in the National Football League. His approach on a daily basis to improve, to learn from previous mistakes and to go ahead and compete throughout it."
Thomas's progress is hastened by facing the Giants' outstanding pass rushers in practice, including Markus Golden Oshane Ximines and his former college teammates, Lorenzo Carter. Thomas said blocking Carter is much more challenging now than it was when they were in Athens. Indeed, Carter knocked him down in their initial encounter in pads during a training camp practice.
"I remember our first actually full padded practice up here going against Lorenzo and it just felt different from Georgia," Thomas said. "Obviously, he's been in the NFL. He's adjusted to the speed and become a better pass rusher and makes me better every day."
Judge said those weekday challenges are vital for Thomas to play well on Sundays.
"He gets great work throughout our practices," Judge said. "We go one on ones or two vs. two against the defensive line, he gets to see really good pass rushers off the edge, whether it's Zo (Carter) or Leonard (Williams), whoever it may be, on a daily basis. He prepares for the games on Sunday, but this guy never really looks fazed in anything he does. He has a quiet demeanor, but it's a serious demeanor. Once he starts talking, he'll chatter a little bit to you. But he's very focused and locked in, and it translates over to how he plays in the game."
Thomas will have another busy day at the office on Sunday. Arik Armstead had 10.0 sacks last season. Ezekiel Ansah, whom the Niners signed this week, is a two-time Pro Bowler. Kerry Hyder, who had an eight-sack season in 2016, will play more with Bosa sidelined.
"That's the beauty of the NFL, it's every week, you're going against the best," Thomas said. "Especially playing left tackle., some of the best pass rushers in the world, so I have to be prepared every week. It was a great start going against some guys like that. Some of those guys are the cream of the crop in the NFL so it's a good start for me."
He'll try to keep it going on Sunday.
*With Sterling Shepard on injured reserve for at least three weeks, the Giants currently have four wide receivers on their roster. They also have four on their practice squad, meaning they could add one before facing San Francisco.
"We have a lot of discussions ahead after practice," Judge said. "There are a couple more things we have to look at today in terms of some third down review, red area install. We'll see where it goes today in practice. We'll finalize those discussions really tomorrow morning as a staff."
*The Giants' final injury report of the week included just two players, both defensive backs: Adrian Colbert (quad) is doubtful and Brandon Williams (groin) is questionable. Those two players were the gunners on the punt team in the season opener vs. Pittsburgh. Colbert was inactive last week in Chicago.
*San Francisco listed six players as out: quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) running backs Raheem Mostert (knee) and Tevin Coleman (knee), tight end George Kittle (knee), defensive end Dee Ford (back) and linebacker Dee Greenlaw (quad). Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring) is questionable. The Niners also have several standout players on injured reserve, including wide receiver Deebo Samuel, cornerback Richard Sherman and defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas.