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2023 NFL Scouting Combine

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NFL Combine Notebook: Prospects discuss Giants connections


Wednesday marked the first day of prospect media sessions at the 2023 NFL Combine.

Interior defensive linemen, EDGE defenders and linebackers were the three positions that made up the opening day of press conferences for the 2023 draft hopefuls.

Several prospects from the University of Oregon and the University of Alabama discussed their relationships with the Giants' two first-round picks from last year, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal.

"It was great going up against Neal," said Alabama defensive lineman Byron Young. "He was a good player, and a great person, too. We had battles for three years. I've gone up against him a lot, countless reps. He made me better and I think I made him better. It was a great experience." 

Neal and Young each arrived at Alabama in 2019. While Neal finished his collegiate career at tackle, he began his time with the Crimson Tide on the interior at guard. This led to a lot of matchups between the two in practice, for which Young said he was grateful.

Similar to Neal, Young was selected to the All-SEC team by the Associated Press in his final season at Alabama.

Defensive lineman DJ Dale, another prospect hoping to hear his name called during next month's draft, also recalled his time spent with Neal in Tuscaloosa.

"A lot of great battles, especially freshman year when he was playing more as a guard instead of tackle," Dale said about his tenure playing with Neal. "We went at it every single day, learned from each other, got better going against each other. Evan is who he is. He was picked as high for a reason. Evan's great. He's going to be great."

Thibodeaux's former teammates at Oregon had nothing but positive things to say about last year's No. 5 overall pick, as well.

"It was great," Oregon defensive end DJ Johnson said about sharing the field with Thibodeaux. "That's my dog. I saw he tweeted (good luck) the other day. He's a great dude, a great athlete, obviously. He's a great person as well."

Johnson transitioned from defensive end to tight end for the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, but still ended up spending two seasons in the same position room as Thibodeaux.

The Giants' outside linebacker shared some advice with the 2023 draft hopeful leading up to the Combine.

"Take it all in, embrace it, have fun with it," Johnson recalled Thibodeaux telling him. "It's a one-time experience, so you've got to have fun with it."

As for his on-field success while at Oregon, linebacker prospect Noah Sewell joked that Thibodeaux made everyone else's jobs a whole lot easier.

"I didn't have to work. I knew that third down, fourth down we were coming off the field," Sewell said. "Every time I looked at him get the sack, it was like 'We live to play another down.'"

View photos from Media Day as some of the top DL, EDGE and LB prospects speak to reporters from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

*Several other prospects who spoke have connections with current members of the Giants.

Alabama's DJ Dale talked about Xavier McKinney's leadership when with the Crimson Tide.

"X is a great leader, as well," said Dale. "X tolerated nothing but your best. Him being a leader on the defense, he kind of got us going. When things weren't what they were supposed to be, he was the guy to speak up. Even from watching him now, X is still that guy to this day. It was great playing with X."

*Indiana linebacker Cam Jones played five seasons for the Hoosiers, the first four of which he shared a LB room with the Giants' Micah McFadden.

"Just his awareness in the game," Jones said about what he learned from playing with McFadden. "His relentless mindset, his dog mentality. He held everybody accountable to a high standard and he expected nothing less, even if I was his best friend. Every single day, he was pushing me, we were pushing each other. Just his way of approaching every single day, day in and day out.

"I was talking to him yesterday, actually, on FaceTime. He was just telling me how it's a grind. He's not going to sugarcoat it to me and say it's easy. He just keeps instilling in my head that I'm meant to be here, I just need to put in the work. And if I need anything, he's one call away."

*Vanderbilt linebacker Anfernee Orji spent the 2021 season playing under Giants inside linebackers coach John Egorugwu, then the Commodores' linebackers coach. Orji started 12 games that year and led the team with 93 tackles and 13 tackles for loss.

"It was great playing with Coach Egs," Orji told "I was always in his office trying to learn more because he's a league guy, he's back in the league now. So just being able to pick his brain, talk to him, see everything I need to improve on. He helped me tremendously, especially in that first year with Coach Lea. It was a great experience being coached by him."

Egorugwu made a very positive impact on the young linebacker, as the two still speak often.

"I talk to him all the time," Orji said about the Giants' LB coach. "I've been texting him throughout this process, texted him before this process during the season just trying to pick his brain, see things I can improve and just catch up since I'm so close to him."

View photos from Giants Media Day as GM Joe Schoen spoke to the media from the NFL Combine.


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