Everything Azeez Ojulari does, Kayvon Thibodeaux wants to do better.
Ojulari set the Giants rookie sack record last season … so?
"I mean, I wouldn't not want it," said a smiling Thibodeaux, who will be chasing the benchmark of 8.5 sacks.
Ojulari's response? "It's on."
"He said he has goals he wants to reach," Thibodeaux said, "and we're just going to keep pushing each other to get there."
The competition between the two outside linebackers also goes further than sack numbers.
"Whether it's eating, sleeping or breathing, I'm going to try to do it better," Thibodeaux said. "So, just continuing to set a standard and continuing to chase and create that competitive banter."
Thibodeaux is no stranger to making an immediate impact in new surroundings.
In 2019, Thibodeaux set the Oregon freshman record with a team-high 9.0 sacks and led the nation with seven sacks in the fourth quarter alone. He earned Freshman All-American honors and was named the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.
But he is a long way from Eugene.
"I think that's the nature of the [NFL] game," Thibodeaux said. "When you get people that are bigger, faster and stronger, things move a little quicker. There is more strategy in every play, and you definitely have to sharpen all your tools."
Thibodeaux added, "I feel like it varies with every person, but I feel like you can't use every move on every person. You have to know specifically who you're going against, and you have to tailor your moves to that."
Thibodeaux and Ojulari have been refining their skills against Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal, another formidable tandem on the other side of the ball. Thibodeaux, who said his best move is the long arm, often finds himself on the right side going against Thomas, the left tackle, in practice.
And it's not accidental.
Whenever the opportunity presents itself, Thibodeaux will tap fellow linebackers like Ojulari, Jihad Ward and Tomon Fox, and say, "I need him."
"I've had this chip on my shoulder with Andrew just making sure that I continue to keep going after him," Thibodeaux said. "I've got to even up the score. He kind of got ahead a little bit, and I've got to even it back up."
Meanwhile, Neal has pushed Thibodeaux to be better and vice versa.
"Everybody on the field has," Thibodeaux said. "I feel like that's one of the biggest things. One of the coaches always says, 'Everyone touches everybody else's money,' whether it's directly or indirectly. So just making sure that we continue to push each other and really give each other a look when it's time."
So, whether Ojulari's record stands for one year or 10, Thibodeaux knows a rising tide lifts all boats.
"That's the game," he said. "I try to explain football to a lot of people who just watch for entertainment, but if you're not making the play, you're doing something that is going to help someone else make the play. That's every play. Every team has that. That's one of the pillars of football."
*The Giants, who are down numbers up front, signed two offensive linemen heading into Sunday's preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. They added Chris Owens, an undrafted rookie out of Alabama who was recently released by the Steelers, and brought back Josh Rivas, whom the Giants waived on Aug. 14. In today's corresponding moves, the Giants waived defensive tackle Christopher Hinton and placed wide receiver Robert Foster (hamstring) on injured reserve.
*Before Friday's practice, coach Brian Daboll announced Max Garcia will start at center while the following offensive linemen will not play against Cincinnati: Jamil Douglas, Ben Bredeson, Josh Ezeudu, Garrett McGhin, Jon Feliciano, and Shane Lemieux. Nick Gates and Matt Peart remain on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
*Daboll also said the following players are not expected to play: running backs Matt Breida and Gary Brightwell; tight ends Andre Miller and Ricky Seals-Jones; wide receivers Sterling Shepard (PUP), Kadarius Toney and Darius Slayton; defensive lineman Leonard Williams; outside linebackers Elerson Smith and Jihad Ward; safety Dane Belton; and cornerbacks Cor'Dale Flott and Rodarius Williams.
View photos of the New York Giants' 2022 roster as it currently stands.