The Giants took the field on Back Together Saturday today at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
Coach Brian Daboll met with the media before practice, while rookies Evan Neal and Kayvon Thibodeaux spoke following the session. Today's team drills centered around fringe red zone work.
For the second consecutive day, the Giants had some alumni present at practice. Howard Cross, Brandon Jacobs and Plaxico Burress were spotted on the sideline.
Here is what we learned today:
1. Thibodeaux, Neal growing together
When the Giants selected Kayvon Thibodeaux fifth and Evan Neal seventh overall in this year's draft, it was clear that the two would be linked forever. Add in the fact that the former is an edge rusher and the latter is an offensive tackle, and the connection between the two becomes even more obvious.
"It's hard coming in as a rookie, regardless of what round you're taken," coach Brian Daboll told the media. "But they've been excellent in meetings. They've done what they're supposed to do. They've worked extremely hard in practice. There's good competitiveness in practice. But sure, you know, you take two guys that early in the first round, and you want to make sure you hit on them and not just as players, which is important, but as people and the right people for the organization. So yeah, counting on those guys."
After Thibodeaux missed some time during OTAs due to an injury, the rookie linebacker is back on the field in full at the start of training camp. The two first-round picks have been going up against each other a lot during team drills, and both of them admitted that it's been mutually beneficial.
"It's crazy that through high school, and through recruitment, and every major camp that was the matchup that everybody wanted to see. Me versus Kayvon," Neal said. "It's just so ironic that we ended up on the same NFL team. I'm just excited to go against him every day, get each other better. I believe that iron sharpens iron."
"Football is a game of trenches," Thibodeaux added. "And starting with the trenches is a great start from the man upstairs, and they did it and I feel like as we continue to get older and mature, we're going to continue to grow and gel together, and keep bringing both sides to the forefront."
2. Pads coming soon
After four days of practice to start training camp, things are about to pick up. The Giants will be donning pads for the first time on Monday as the calendar flips to August.
"There's a lot of good teaching out here. It's really, like I said in the spring, it's a teaching camp," Daboll said. "It's competitive because there's fans and the nature of training camp. But the evaluation process of the things that they need to do physically and they're able to do that, really exert that a little bit more, I think we're all waiting for that."
It was clear today that the coaching staff aren't the only ones excited to put pads on - the players could not be more eager.
"I'm very excited," Thibodeaux said. "There are a lot of things as a pass rusher, as a defensive guy, you aren't able to do without pads. The offense has the baggy jerseys you can just pull on them. Now it'll be more of a fair game. I'll be able to use all the moves I've been working on."
"I'm extremely excited I get the chance to get better because when you don't have pads on, you get better from a sense in pass protection and stuff like that, but it's not the same," said Neal. "We really can't fit our combo blocks or really lean on guys in the run game. I'm definitely excited for that standpoint of it, for sure."
3. Thomas helping both rookie first-round picks
Andrew Thomas had a big bounce back season last year, allowing just two sacks on 517 pass-block snaps across 13 games. His performance earned him a 78.9 overall grade from Pro Football Focus and a pass-blocking grade of 82.1, which ranked 12th among all offensive tackles. After Thomas missed spring workouts due to an injury, his impact both on and off the field during training camp has been felt by not only Neal, but also Thibdoeaux.
"Drew, he's a great guy. Definitely a great resource to lean on because he's been through it," Neal explained. "He's been a Top-10 pick, a lot of expectations coming in, and I feel like he's handled himself very well. I'm extremely grateful to have an asset and a resource like that for sure. As our relationship continues to grow and evolve, I'm sure that I'll learn even more from him."
"Oh, it's been great. Not just him, but (Tackle) Andrew Thomas. Them as a unit," added Thibodeaux. "Me being able to go back and forth. You never – there are no plays off. Everyone asks me, 'What is the difference between now and I mean college and the NFL,'? It's like, you have to be 100 percent and have a move every play, there is no getting by. Just going against both of them, and Evan especially is good to continue to grow and share info now and again."
4. Young defensive backs look strong
Through the first few days of training camp, Darnay Holmes had been one of the biggest bright spots on the defense. Holmes had an interception in each of the first three practices, and followed that up on Saturday with a forced fumble, which Julian Love picked up and returned the other way for what would have likely been a touchdown. Speaking of Love, the defensive back also had a nice pass breakup during individual drills towards the start of practice. Aaron Robinson also forced an incompletion during this period.
The other turnover forced by the defense Saturday was caused by two rookies. Sixth-round linebacker Darrian Beavers got great pressure and was in the backfield on the play, forcing a deep pass which fourth-round safety Dane Belton intercepted in the end zone. Last season at Cincinnati, Beavers recorded four sacks and 11 tackles for loss, earning an 86.1 pass-rush grade. Meanwhile, Belton picked off five passes at Iowa last year, leading to an 82.3 coverage grade.
5. Ojulari 'still working through it'
When veterans reported to camp on Tuesday, there were four players placed on lists that would temporarily keep them out of practice. Sterling Shepard (Achilles), Nick Gates (leg) and Matt Peart (knee) were put on the PUP list, while Azeez Ojulari was placed on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list with a hamstring injury.
When asked about the second-year linebacker's progress on Saturday, Daboll was not ready to give a return date for him.
"He's working through it. I don't want to give you a timetable, but he's gotten better," the head coach said.
Ojulari had a stellar rookie campaign, setting a franchise rookie record with eight sacks. He also became the first player in Giants history to register a sack in each of his first three games.
View top photos as the Giants took the field on Back Together Saturday at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
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