EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – One of the most entertaining and scrutinized periods in any training camp practice is the pass blocking/rush drill featuring offensive linemen and the defensive front seven competing one-on-one. Scouts, executives and camp visitors gravitate to the physical scrum, which is the closest they'll get to the combat that is waged on the line of scrimmage in an NFL game.
This summer, that drill could be as competitive and memorable in Giants camp as it has been in years because first-round draft choices Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal will go head-to-head.
It won't be their first on-field confrontation. Because they were among the very best prospects in their class, they attended the same camps as far back as high school. Now they've come together on the Giants as the fifth (Thibodeaux) and seventh (Neal) overall selections in the 2022 NFL Draft.
"I think it speaks value to the competitiveness," Thibodeaux said today when the two spoke at a joint news conference in the Giants' headquarters. "It speaks value to wanting to be better. For me and him, every time we came to a camp, we knew it was like, okay, you know how they're going to set us up, you know. But it was like, okay, he's the best; I'm the best. Now let's get better, you know what I mean. Let's prove to ourselves why we got this far."
The two young standouts will likely duel in practice for many years.
"I believe it's going to push us tremendously," Neal said. "I believe in iron sharpens iron, so what better place to get better than the New York Giants. So, I'm just excited to go out there and just compete, compete my hardest, man, and hopefully we make each other better."
View photos of the Giants' draft picks as they tour their new home.
Both players are very good right now. They were each consensus All-Americans in 2021. Thibodeaux had 19.0 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in 31 games at the University of Oregon. Neal started all 40 games in which he played, at three different positions (left tackle, left guard, right tackle, where he will first line up with the Giants).
But for Thibodeaux and Neal, those are starting points. They share a fierce desire to continue their growth and become the very best at their positions, and to help each other on the journey.
"The uncertainty of the pre-draft process is all over now and now I can really just get back to the main thing, which is football," Neal said. "It's a really good feeling, for sure, to be able to come in and work as hard as I can and just help the team. It's definitely a great feeling."
"I was just going to agree with what he's saying, like, damn, we're ready," Thibodeaux said. "Just being competitors, it's hard; it's not fun competing with the clock. But when you compete with somebody next to you with a heart and a brain just like you, it's a whole lot of fun."
Thibodeaux is louder and more outgoing than Neal, and he admits to having many outside interests. But football is unquestionably his priority, as he demonstrated when he was asked about his "brand."
"It's just so crazy, so when they handed me the playbook, it was in iPad form," Thibodeaux said. "And me, I learn best writing. So, for me, it was like the brand went out the window, right. The only thing I can think of now is the playbook and really get into it and dive into it and make sure that I know everything that I can going into training camp."
Neal has had extensive conversations with head coach Brian Daboll and line coaches Bobby Johnson and Tony Sparano, Jr.
"Got on Zoom a couple times and installed the playbook, and it's crazy that coach Daboll was the offensive coordinator at Alabama (in 2017), so a lot of scheme things and concepts kind of aren't foreign to me," Neal said. "I've seen them before, so it's going to be a real help coming in and trying to learn the playbook, for sure."
Neal was asked if it was important to him to be the first tackle drafted; he was actually the second, selected immediately after the Carolina Panthers chose Ikem Ekwonu between Thibodeaux and Neal.
"My goal was just to be drafted, man," Neal said. "That's what I've been playing football my entire life for. I'm just thankful that the Giants organization gave me an opportunity to do that. I'm definitely going to make the most of it."
So will Thibodeaux. Through mutual friends at Oregon, he was able to speak via Zoom with Michael Strahan, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who holds the franchise sacks record with 141.5. What did Strahan tell Thibodeaux about playing and succeeding in the big city?
"Just to keep the main thing the main thing and that's kind of been the focus of all that," he said. "Football is going to be that avenue. Football is going to be that terminal for everything you want to do after, so long as you keep the main thing the main thing.
"He also shed light into the idea that people thought the same thing about him. Like, man, you must have had this planned out. But for him, he shared with me that it took him being great to really cultivate everything he did off the field. It kind of just fell into place."
That was crystallized for Thibodeaux when he flew into the metropolitan area and saw the famed Manhattan skyline.
"For me, it's actually crazy that you talk about it because New York is a place that I've traveled in the past year, maybe in the past two years, I've been to New York more times than any other place," he said. "And it's so random. It was just so random. But touching down, it was like, you know, it's meant to be."
Now Thibodeaux and Neal must make it all that it can be, for the Giants and themselves.
View photos from the college careers of the Giants' entire 11-player draft class