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Kayvon Thibodeaux is 'can opener' for Giants defense


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Edge rushers collect sacks. It is the stat many feel is their most visible contribution to their teams, the stat that burnishes their reputation and prompts fans to rise from their seats and scream their approval.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, who the Giants selected fifth overall in the 2022 NFL Draft to harass quarterbacks, has played seven games in his rookie season. He has one sack. It was a biggie, an eight-yarder that included a forced fumble by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and a game-clinching recovery by Leonard Williams on Oct. 16. For a player who recorded 19.0 sacks in 32 games at the University of Oregon, one seems like a lonely number.

But Thibodeaux is confident he will soon collect sacks in greater numbers. 

"I think the time is definitely going to come," Thibodeaux said today. "I think there's always a time and a place, and I'm going to keep working. Right now, my team is doing well. So, seeing Dex (defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence), seeing Leo (Williams), as long as somebody is getting a sack, I'm okay. As long as the defense can leave with four or five sacks per game, then I'm okay if I don't get one. But if no one gets one, then it bothers me because we're a team. 

"It doesn't bother me. I think this is the greatest thing because it gives me a chance to keep working, to keep getting better, to keep having that chip on my shoulder."

The Giants are even less concerned than Thibodeaux. After missing the first two games with a knee injury suffered in a preseason game, Thibodeaux has started the last seven and been credited with 18 tackles (12 solo), three quarterback hits, three passes defensed, the forced fumble and one fumble recovery. 

Asked today about his prized rookie, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale added another entry to his season-long praise of Thibodeaux.

"I think with our system itself, like I said before, it's a position-less defense," Martindale said. "And when you look at the defense statistically in areas where there are a lot of sacks, he's doing the selfless work. I always say we're going to open up a can of whoop ass. Well, he's the can opener. You have a guy running free to the quarterback, playing a single high safety. He has to do the right pattern to get that guy free and that's what pleases me about the guy himself. I know everybody wants to say, 'Sacks, sacks, sacks' to him after games whenever you do the media with him, but if there's 1,000 plays run and we're happy with him in 950 of them, it's better than the guy that has 12 sacks, plays 600 plays and can't play the run, can't do this, can't do that.

"I just think the kid is playing great. It's just like takeaways or anything else, the sacks will come. The other thing is to look at the holding calls he's drawn, you know you look at the whole picture. He drops well in coverage. I can't say nothing but positives about how he's playing. How he's chasing after the football like a veteran, studying like a veteran, leading like a veteran. So, I'm really glad he's a Giant." 

Is it better for Thibodeaux to be a multifaceted player or one who is accumulating sacks?

"I think to be a better all-around player," Thibodeaux said. "If I finish the season with not as many sacks as I want, but my coaches are proud of the season I've had and they feel like I've made great steps towards my future, I'll be good." 

This was a natural week to check in on Thibodeaux. The Giants Sunday will host the Detroit Lions, who selected edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson No. 2 overall in the draft. Hutchinson leads the Lions and all NFL rookies with 5.5 sacks. 

Has Thibodeaux paid attention to his fellow member of the Class of 2022?

"Right now, I'm really focused on our team," he said. "He's a great player. He's done a lot of great things. There's a lot of great pass rushers who have done great things, but just being able to kind of hone in on these wins and not really take them for granted. Not get too big. You see a lot; you see a little. So, focusing on the next day."

Martindale has spoken to Thibodeaux about his consistent contributions on plays that don't always appear in statistical lines or game stories. But Thibodeaux is not alone in receiving such counseling. 

"I talk to the whole defense that way," Martindale said. "This defense, this group of guys are the most selfless people I've been around in this profession. All they want is they want to see what's on the left and what's on the right in the win column. They have never flinched during a game. No matter what happens, they come back and they're ready to go on the next play. But I talk to the whole defense about that. You say every coach says sacks aren't important, he got the game winner against Baltimore, that was an important sack, but there are other things that go into it is what I'm trying to say."

Thibodeaux's refusal to dwell on statistics and his willingness to make more obscure contributions reflect a maturity that is rare in a player who won't turn 22 years old until Dec. 15. 

"I've said it before, it's like he's got an old soul," Martindale said. "We'll play music before we start the defensive meeting. Like today was old school Thursday, it's my favorite day and he knows all those songs, the bands, and everything else (including) Ohio Players, we played Zapp (Frank Zappa). I mean, we played some good stuff."

Thibodeaux is grateful for Martindale's complimentary assessment. 

"I take pride in everything I do," he said. "But I take pride in being an old soul and trying to be that connection between my parents' and grandparents' generations and giving that game to my generation."

Thibodeaux has some throwback skills as a player. Two areas the coaches have noted more than once are his contributions to the run defense and his propensity for drawing holding penalties from offensive linemen. 

"That's something that people don't really pay attention to – people who can set up those first and second downs to get to third down," Thibodeaux said. "So, me being able to stop the run and step up, that's been great for me and just making those gains to be able to be on the field for four downs. And I know the pass rush and everything else is going to come. I'm not really too worried about that as long as I keep playing fundamentally sound and keep growing in that aspect." 

And the penalties?

"I was just thinking about it … if I was a guy who complained about fouls and things, when I started getting them, everybody would hate me," he said. "For me, I'm going to keep grinding, keep getting out (of) the mud. And when they do start getting to me finally, everybody else can take a gasp and say, 'Okay finally.'" 

*Rookie Joshua Ezeudu, who started the last two games at left guard, was added to the injury report and did not practice because of a neck issue. Wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson went from a limited to a non-participant. A third rookie, tight end Daniel Bellinger, remains sidelined due to the eye injury he suffered in Jacksonville on Oct. 23.

*Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence (back) and linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux (illness) were limited today after sitting out yesterday's practice. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hamstring- safety Dane Belton (clavicle), linebacker Jihad Ward (thumb) and tackle Evan Neal (knee) were all limited.

Neal has missed the last two games, returned to practice yesterday and will probably be inactive against the Lions.

"Moved him around a little bit, coach Brian Daboll said. "Probably still has a little bit to go, but it's good to get out and get acclimated and do some drills and get into some periods. We'll see for this week, but I don't think so."

View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 11 matchup against the Detroit Lions.

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