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'I almost cried': Rookies take first step in NFL journey

KAYVON-BOBS

The pre-draft process can be grueling for rookies.

From the moment they take off their college jersey for the last time, they immediately begin to train for the combine, all-star games, pro days, official visits with clubs, and a slew of other obligations – all with the goal of making it to the NFL. On Friday, the next leg of their journey commenced.

"It felt great, first day back," said outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux, the fifth overall pick in last month's draft, after the first practice of rookie minicamp. "It was weird for me. The past six months I hadn't been a part of a team. Now getting here, doing walk-throughs, doing indies (individual drills), doing everything, going back to being part of the team, it's been fun."

Yesterday, the Giants welcomed their 11 draft picks, 13 undrafted free agents, and a host of tryout players for what amounts to an orientation at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. It's a time for them to get to know the coaches and vice versa as they acclimate to professional football. It's also the first opportunity to put on their team's logo, a moment that was not lost on Thibodeaux.

"You know, I put it on, but I felt like I'm not there yet," said Thibodeaux, the first defensive player to earn unanimous All-America status in Oregon history. "I feel like there's still some hoops and some hurdles. There is still some prelims I've got to go through to be part of the team. But I don't have words for it. It still hasn't hit me. I feel like it's going to hit me once we really get into it. I heard some music and I almost cried. I said, 'Man, we're really here.'"

Wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson felt the same way.

"It was still a little bit surreal, finally on an NFL team, just being out there," the second-round pick out of Kentucky said. "It was a really good practice, though. … [I'm] really just learning as much as I can with the playbook, just getting all the terminology down with my coaches and things like that. Just getting really comfortable out here, so when it's time for a real practice, I'm really full speed and ready to go."

While the coaches and front office members have gotten to know the draft picks intimately over the past five months, others have more ground to make up. But there's always a diamond in the rough.

"I think can you see stuff in terms of the individual drills that you need to see, whether it's change of direction, quickness, it's a little harder probably for the bigger guys," coach Brian Daboll said of evaluating players invited on a tryout basis. "But this is something we've done for quite a bit. If there's a guy out there that stands out, we'll find them."

View photos of the 2022 draft class getting fitted for equipment as rookie minicamp gets underway.

Here's what else you need to know from Friday at rookie minicamp:

*Thibodeaux talked about the much-publicized number swap with Graham Gano, who previously wore No. 5. The price? A $50,000 donation from Thibodeaux to Puppies Behind Bars, which trains incarcerated individuals to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and first responders, as well as explosive-detection canines for law enforcement.

"I mean, he's a great guy," Thibodeaux said of Gano, who will now wear No. 9. "Before we even started negotiating, we really got to know each other. That's the biggest part of being a teammate, joining someone's family, getting to know him. Getting some wisdom from him. Been in the game 13 years or thereabouts. A lot of wisdom. He was able to give me a lot of wisdom; we were able to make it work. And military was big for me. My grandfather was in the military. He's a military kid, figuring a way to give back, do something positive. We figured it out."

*Daboll was asked what he's seen from tight end Daniel Bellinger, a fourth-round pick from San Diego State.

"I think he has good size," Daboll said of the 6-foot-5, 253-pounder. "He had good speed. He had good hands. Did some good things at the line of scrimmage. Thought he had some tools to work with. Obviously liked him when we selected him there. Done a good job here for the short time I've been around him. Good young man."

*Speaking of size, the Giants are looking to carve out a role for the 5-foot-8 Robinson.

"Just my quickness and my versatility," Robinson said of his "height" advantage. "You never really know where I'm going to line up. Just being able to do a lot of different things, a lot of different things with the offense is what I try to do."

At Kentucky, Robinson carried the ball 141 times for 691 rushing yards in addition his 185 receptions for 2,248 yards in his college career.

"That's something I've always liked to be able to do, just kind of contribute on both sides of the game with the running game and passing game," Robinson said. "So whatever they choose and want to use me as, then I'll do that."

Get your first look at the newest Giants as they hit the practice field at rookie minicamp.

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