EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' first selection in the 2022 NFL Draft dodged the despair of a season-ending knee injury. Their final choice did not.
That was the fallout at linebacker the team announced today in the wake of its 25-22 preseason victory last night against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, the pass rusher extraordinaire chosen fifth overall, suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee in the second quarter. Coach Brian Daboll did not give a timetable for his return but was grateful the injury and prognosis did not fit into the worst-case scenario classification.
"I'd say it's day-to-day really," Daboll said. "I'm not forecasting when a player can come back or not come back. I know he'll come in and get treatment. We'll take it day-by-day, and when he's ready to go out there, that's when we'll put him out there."
Inside linebacker Darrian Beavers is in for a longer haul. Though he was taken in the sixth round, No. 182 overall, Beavers impressed the coaching staff early in the spring and was contending to be a starter and see significant playing time. But he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the third quarter, ending his rookie season before it officially began.
Thibodeaux was hurt with 11:04 remaining in the second quarter, when Bengals tight end Thaddeus Moss went low on a block and Thibodeaux's knee bent awkwardly. Though he grabbed his knee as if he were in significant pain, Thibodeaux walked off under his own power after an initial examination by the team's medical staff.
Giants fans expressed their anger about the block on social media, but Daboll said the block was legal and after the game noted the Giants' tight ends and fullbacks also execute it.
"Those are tough blocks – the blocks that are coming from across the line of scrimmage within the tackle box," Daboll said. "You've got to see it, and then you've got to do a great job of trying to play with your hands. So, it's unfortunate that K.T. went down. But that's part of the game."
Thibodeaux will miss practice time – including a joint workout with the Jets on Thursday – and the preseason finale against the Jets on Sunday.
"It's value to be out at practice," Daboll said. "You try to simulate it as best you can to gain live reps, but as many repetitions as any of our guys can get – whether it's a rookie or a veteran – I think that helps them. It helps each unit. K.T.'s been doing everything we've asked him to do since he's been here. He's been a good teammate. He's worked extremely hard. So, certainly, you never want to miss time. He has the right attitude. The right approach. He'll rehab as hard as he can rehab and be ready to go when he's ready to go."
The Giants do have pass rushing depth, including Jihad Ward, Elerson Smith (neither of whom played last night), Oshane Ximines, Azeez Ojulari (who practiced for the first time last week after he was activated off the reserve/non-football injury list), Quincy Roche and rookie free agent Tomon Fox.
"I think (outside linebackers coach) Drew (Wilkins) has done a good job with all those edge guys," Daboll said. "From top to bottom. Fox had a really good night last night. Setting the edge, playing physical. Q (Roche) and Big X (Ximines), Jihad – Haddy – and all those guys have really done a good job of understanding our system and making the most of their opportunities when they get in there. It was good to have Azeez back, too. You know, he had 10 reps, caused two holding penalties, looked good out there for the first time."
Beavers was hurt with 11:37 remaining in the third quarter, when he got caught in a scrum on a seven-yard run by Trayveon Williams. Though he also walked off the field, an examination revealed the extent of his injury.
Beavers is the second member of the Giants' 11-player draft class to lose his first season with a torn ACL. Offensive lineman Marcus McKethan, a fifth-round choice, suffered his injury in a practice in MetLife stadium on Aug. 5. Three more 2022 draftees – offensive lineman Joshua Ezeudu and defensive backs Cor'Dale Flott and Dane Belton – were sidelined last night with injuries.
"I just say for these guys, and I've said this before, you just have a tremendous amount of respect for the players because you see them on away games, or you see them early in the morning on their off days on how much they take care of their body," Daboll said. "Obviously, it's their tool, and whenever something like that happens, there's a wide range of emotions for every player and each player is different. You try to be there and be supportive and do the best job that you can in that regard. What's next and having your mind on what's next and helping the players in any way that you can, so it's tough. McKethan had one, and then now Beavers has one. That's tough, particularly for guys that were developing and doing a good job in camp with a bright future."
Though they lost an inside linebacker last night, the Giants did welcome one back. Veteran Blake Martinez played in his first game since sujffering his own torn ACL last Sept. 26.
"We've been working him back in," Daboll said. "He had 10 reps, maybe a little bit less than that, but was active, was where he was supposed to be, read the offense well. I've got a lot of confidence in Blake."
View photos from the home preseason opener between the Giants and Bengals at MetLife Stadium.
*Linebacker wasn't the only position to be hit with injuries. Kicker Graham Gano suffered a concussion when he fell and hit his head on a 73-yard kickoff return by Chris Evans. Punter Jamie Gillan handled placekicks and kickoffs in the second half, but the Giants might add a kicker this week.
"(General manager) Joe (Schoen) and I are going to talk about that," Daboll said. "We've had preliminary discussions on it. We're possibly going to bring in a kicker; you don't want to wear Jamie out – the different angles he has to kick from. So, we're in the process of talking about that, and we definitely could bring one in."
*Daboll is looking forward to seeing his players work with the Jets on Thursday.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Jets coach Robert Saleh) Coach Saleh," Daboll said. "I really got to meet him at the owner's meetings (in March), and then when we talked about potentially practicing against one another, we kind of went around and around."
Because the Jets host the Atlanta Falcons tonight in a preseason game, the coaches decided to limit the joint practice to one day.
"Anytime you practice against a team, you want to get good work in," Daboll said. "Practice the right way. It's almost like you're practicing against your team. I'd say it's pretty competitive, but you still want to take care of one another knowing that you only have so many guys, you want to try to keep people up, stay away from the quarterback. Having the conversations I've had with Coach Saleh up until this point, they've been good. We'll revisit it after his game tonight, make sure that we're in line of what we want to do relative to the schedule and the injuries that each team has, and make sure we're doing what's best for our players and get something productive out of it."