The Giants are two days away from their second preseason matchup of the year. The team continued their prep for Sunday night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Friday with another cards practice.
Assistant General Manager Brandon Brown spoke to the media this morning for the first time at training camp. All of the assistant coaches also spoke with reporters, along with rookie first-round picks Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal.
Here is what we learned:
1. Roster building 'an ever-evolving process'
The Giants' roster has gone through a significant transformation since the conclusion of the 2021 season. A significant number of players on the roster are in their first years with the franchise, with Assistant General Manager Brandon Brown playing a big role in that. Speaking to the media Friday, Brown got into the details of how he and GM Joe Schoen look at building the roster.
"it's an ever-evolving process where every stone has to be (turned)," said the assistant GM. "You want to make sure that you're dotting your 'Is' crossing your 'Ts', whether it's position need, whether it's creating competition at all levels, you got to know what the marketplace is. Whether we're looking or not, you got to know what's out there. So, that's what I'm doing."
When Schoen spoke to the media on the first day of training camp, the general manager stated the qualities he looks for in his players. Brown reiterated those same characteristics on Friday.
"Biggest thing first is guys are smart, tough, dependable," Brown stated. "When I say smart, guys are instinctive. Guys, regardless of their physical traits, they're assignment sound. They're not having busts. When I say tough, guys that are finishing off plays; guys that are competing on special teams. When you talk about dependable, guys are available to you, one. Guys that have a known track record of not missing time. Guys – whether it's offense, defense, special teams – they answer the bell on all three phases or all two phases, whatever they're asked to play. So, that's the ground layer. And then obviously, it's the skillset, the attributes, the athleticism, the speed, the explosiveness – all the things– the size, the length, all those things that come together from the physical tools along with the mental components."
2. Kayvon, Azeez challenging each other
When the Giants drafted Kayvon Thibodeaux with the fifth overall pick in this year's draft, pairing him with Azeez Ojulari, it gave the team its strongest edge rushing duo in years. It took some time to get the two outside linebackers both on the field, as Thibodeaux was held out of some Spring practices and Ojulari missed the start of training camp due to respective injuries. But the pair of young OLBs have been on the practice field all week together, something the rookie has enjoyed.
"It's been really great," said Thibodeaux. "Obviously, he's a great player and now that he's really back, we get to have his presence and get to continue to build that team comradery. It's been great, I'm excited to keep it going."
Ojulari set the franchise rookie record with his eight sacks in 2021 – it set the bar for Thibodeaux, who admitted he is looking to surpass his teammate's number this year.
"I told him yesterday in the meeting like everything he does I want to do it better," said the fifth overall pick. "Whether it's eating, sleeping, or breathing, I'm going to try to do it better. So, just continuing to set a standard and continuing to chase and create that competitive banter."
3. Neal 'getting better and better every day'
Evan Neal appeared in his first NFL game action last week, playing 18 offensive snaps in the win over the Patriots. The rookie right tackle was happy to finally get into a real game, but acknowledged that there are areas he must improve on in order to help him boost his game.
"A live game scenario, a live game situation – it was definitely a great experience to have," said Neal. "I need to continue to work on the same things that I have been harping on with myself and the things that the coaches have been emphasizing as well. Just different technical things as far as like set angles, hat placement and my base. That's pretty much what I need to work on, things that are definitely going to help propel my game to the next level."
Neal has impressed several of his veteran teammates during training camp with his demeanor both on and off the field, along with a lot of the coaches. Standing in at 6-foot-7 and 350 pounds, there is no denying the potential he has to develop into a dominant tackle. But Neal shared with the media that he is simply focused on improving himself each and every day, whether it's at practice or in games.
"At the end of the day, I'm definitely not a finished product but I'm getting better and better every day," the rookie tackle told the media. "I belong here, I belong in this league and like I say, I'm just going to take it day by day. I am going to get better day by day by going out there, going to practice. I'm going to win reps, I'm going to lose reps. That's all a part of it. The preseason games and everything and so forth are just extra experiences that I'm going to get under my belt and I'm going to learn from all those mistakes and learn from the things that I need to get better at."
View the best photos from Friday's training camp practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
4. Injury report vs. Bengals
There are no official injury reports in the preseason, but coach Brian Daboll announced this morning that the following players will likely not suit up against the Bengals: OL Ben Bredeson, OL Jon Feliciano, RB Matt Breida, RB Gary Brightwell, TE Andre Miller, TE Ricky Seals-Jones, OL Jamil Douglas, OL Shane Lemieux, WR Darius Slayton, WR Kadarius Toney, DL Leonard Williams, OLB Elerson Smith, T Garrett McGhin, OL Joshua Ezeudu, S Dane Belton, CB Cor'Dale Flott, CB Rodarius Williams, and OLB Jihad Ward. WR Sterling Shepard, C Nick Gates and T Matt Peart remain on the Physically Unable to Perform list and will not suit up.
With the injuries to Feliciano, Douglas, Lemieux, Bredeson and McGhin, the Giants will have a new starting center for Sunday's game against the Bengals: Max Garcia. The eighth-year veteran played in 93 games (52 starts) for the Broncos and Cardinals since his selection in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Garcia played 15 games (11 starts) for Arizona last year, four of which came at center (the other seven at right guard). He had success at the center position in his final year at Florida, as well, where he started all 13 games for the Gators and was voted Second-Team All-SEC.
5. Giants add two OL
As stated above, the Giants are down some players on the offensive line. Due to all of the injuries up front, the team signed two offensive linemen ahead of Sunday's game. The Giants signed Chris Owens, an undrafted rookie out of Alabama who was recently waived by the Steelers, and re-signed Josh Rivas, whom the team released on Aug. 14.
In corresponding moves, the Giants waived defensive lineman Christopher Hinton and placed wide receiver Robert Foster (hamstring) on injured reserve.
Owens (6-3, 305) played multiple positions across the Alabama offensive line during his career. He started 20 games, including 12 games at right tackle and one at center in 2021. In his final collegiate season, the Crimson Tide boasted the No. 6 scoring offense, No. 7 passing offense, No. 3 unit in third-down conversion percentage, and the No. 5 red zone offense. Pittsburgh signed Owens in May and released him on Aug. 16.
Rivas (6-6, 317) was originally signed as a rookie free agent by the Giants on May 12. He played in 46 games (23 starts) at guard in four seasons at Kansas State, where he was selected honorable mention All-Big 12 in 2021 after not allowing a sack among his 362 pass blocking reps.