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Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari ramp up workload


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Kayvon Thibodeaux practiced Wednesday and later sounded hopeful of making his NFL debut when the 2-0 Giants host the Dallas Cowboys Monday night.

"Today was definitely a – (I) had a lot of progress," Thibodeaux said. "Was able to open it up and do a lot of things. So yeah, today I'm definitely confident. … We're building right now. We're building on Week 2. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but we're taking the right steps."

Thibodeaux and fellow edge rusher Azeez Ojulari each missed the season's first two games, the former with a knee injury suffered in a preseason game vs. Cincinnati on Aug. 28 and the latter with a calf injury he sustained in practice on Aug. 25.

The Giants have big plans for each of them. Thibodeaux was the fifth overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, and Ojulari led the team in sacks last season with a franchise rookie record 8.0

"Thibs and Azeez, they're getting close," coach Brian Daboll said. "They're going to take some team reps today. I think they took a little bit last week, but they're going to take more this week. They're getting close, so we'll see with them. I'd say they're still day-to-day even though they're on the close side."

Thibodeaux had 19 sacks in three seasons at the University of Oregon. If he plays with Ojulari, Oshane Ximines and Jihad Ward, the Giants will have a formidable foursome of outside pass rushers.

What must Thibodeaux prove to himself before he can step onto the field?  

"That I can go," he said. "I can be healthy, and I can perform the different moves and tasks that I need to do my job at a high level.

"The thing I think that people don't realize is whether you're injured or not injured, once you decide to step on the field between the whistles, it doesn't really matter. So, just making sure that I can go. Today was a day to open up and really try to go that 100 (miles per hour) to see what it would feel like. So, being able to do that was a good thing from today." 

A year ago, Thibodeaux sat out two early-season games and was limited in a third because of an ankle injury suffered in Oregon's season opener against Fresno State. That experience has helped him mitigate the disappointment of missing his team's first two NFL games.

"That doesn't really frustrate (me)," he said. "You have to have an understanding of where you want to get to. If I tried to focus too much on the now, of course you'd be down. But (I'm) just trying to focus on the future of what we have in store and what I have in store for myself.  

"I'm not the bone doctor. So, I couldn't tell you really how long it was going to take or what it was going to feel like. As far as my mental and my body, it's been a good process having to come back."

The biggest step will be the one he hopes to take Monday night.

"Nobody wants to be on sideline, but I think that's the part of team sport (where) you've really got to be humble," Thibodeaux said. "And the fact that I can't win a game, and I can't lose a game. All I can do is contribute to the outcome. So, for me, even when I'm not on the field, (it's) figuring out how I can contribute to the guys I'm playing with.

"Just making sure I'm mentally focused. Taking mental reps, you've really got to lock in, pay attention, and hone in on those details." 

*Defensive lineman Leonard Williams did not attend practice so he could stay indoors to receive treatment on the right knee injury he sustained Sunday.

His status for the Dallas game has yet to be determined. Williams has started 21 consecutive games, tying linebacker Tae Crowder for the Giants' longest active streak. He has never missed a game in his eight-year career, playing in all 114 with 106 starts. 

"Leo's rehabbing," Daboll said. "Again, Leo's a quick healer. He tells me he's a quick healer. So, I'm not going to put it past Leo to be ready to go. Would it shock me either way? No."

*Cornerback Aaron Robinson is back with the team after undergoing an appendectomy last week but is not ready to engage in football activities.

"ARob, I think, is really a wildcard," Daboll said. "He's getting better, he's walking around. But I'd say I won't know that (his status for the game), probably any of us won't, until the end of the week." 

*Three wide receivers did not practice. Sterling Shepard was given the day off as the Giants focus on not overtaxing him, as he is still just nine months removed from an Achilles tendon tear. Kadarius Toney has hamstring tightness. And rookie Wan'Dale Robinson, who missed the victory against Carolina with a knee injury suffered in the opener, was not ready to return. "(He is) getting better," Daboll said. "Close. For this week, I'm not sure."

The Giants will wear their all-white Color Rush uniforms on Monday Night Football against the Cowboys.