Outside Linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux
Q: Your rookie year could go so many different ways. You had a little break now. How much do you feel maybe energized by the fact that unlike a lot of Giants rookies in years past, you are squarely in a playoff chase right here with a huge game coming up? Sometimes you hear about rookie(s) 'You hit the wall.' You're playing for a long season. This is all right in front of you. How energizing is that for you?
A: It's definitely exciting. Dabs (head coach Brian Daboll) talked to us today, and he kind of gave us that idea that the beginning of the season starts now. So, everything we've done has put us in position to go for it all. So, we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. But it is a big task at hand that we have.
Q: Does it help with aches and pains and with mental fatigue and things like that to know you're pushing for something really important?
A: Definitely. Not even just the playoffs and that, but just the idea of having those mentors like (former Giants) Michael Strahan and Carl Banks in the building – even Jessie Armstead – just to give you those insights to, 'This is where the biggest guys step up.' So, it kind of gives you that extra thing to play for – extra motivation.
Q: Speaking of mentors, when we were talking to (defensive lineman) Leonard (Williams) last week, he talked about wanting to take an even more active role and kind of giving you advice and just kind of helping you get through this – the long grind of your first NFL season. What has he been like for you?
A: He's been great – just like a big brother. And not just on the field but off the field and helping me get that routine and get everything in order so that I'm able to play and still available at the end of the season.
Q: It seemed like Thursday you had, at least from a far, a very active game. You had a big impact. How did that game feel to you in terms of your contributions?
A: It felt really good. I do feel like I had one of my better games. I still got a lot to grow from. (There's) still some rushes I left out there that I want back. But I definitely do feel like I've been growing in the right direction.
Q: A lot of times people say that the speed of the game can trip up a rookie, that this can trip up a rookie. What has been the hardest adjustment, if you will, for you in your rookie season? And where do you feel you're at as the season has progressed?
A: I feel like I've made a lot of big gains because I was kind of thrown into a position of leadership, and not necessarily like vocal leadership, but as far as play call – just situations and being on the field and having to take on a big role on the field. So, it was kind of a slow start for me just really kind of learning those ins and outs, and like you said, the game getting faster. But now I feel like I've been able to put a lot of it together, and now I've been able, with that last game, really put it together and play fast. I do, honestly, feel like that was my fastest game.
Q: I know you're not one to make excuses, but you did have a knee injury in the start of the year, which I have to believe kind of slowed you down a little bit. Is that fair to say, do you think?
A: Definitely. When you are a rookie coming in, I don't have an understanding of what's ahead. It's all new to me. So, I would definitely say that after that, I was able to really accelerate my learning and figure out the things I needed to while I wasn't on the field.
Q: The Giants just announced that (outside linebacker) Azeez (Ojulari) is going to be designated to return from IR. You guys were supposed to be the two bookends; you haven't really been on the field much together so far this year. What does having him back going to mean to you and to this defense?
A: It's definitely exciting. He's a great player. We have meetings, and we're in practice every day together. So, having him back out there is definitely going to be a one-up for the D-line and for the pass rush – for the team. So, I'm excited to see him really let it loose.
Q: You guys talk about how it's not all about sacks. But is there a part of you in these last six games that would like to see A. yourself and B. the team pump up that number to maybe cause negative plays?
A: If I could rack up 100 sacks in this next six games, I would buy them. But sadly, that's not how the game is played. And I think it's a testament to our play calling. There's a great feel for teams and how we play defense. I would say it's not necessarily a lack on us as players, not having that many sacks, but it's a plus to our defense because teams are scheming it. They're getting the ball out. Obviously, we lost the last two games. So, there are some adjustments that we've got to make up front within us as players. But just as far as us scheme-wise, I feel like we've been making a lot of plays. We've been making the plays that we're allowed to make given the scheme and everything that goes into a game.
Q: Do you feel like Azeez can help that part of it?
A: Definitely, he's a guy who can win on any given snap. So, that's definitely going to continue to affect the quarterback and put pressure on him.
Q: What do you think the key is here just to get back in the win column for your team?
A: Just to continue harping on the game plan, get everybody healthy and play for 60 minutes. I feel like that's the only place we kind of took hits. That last game we weren't able to really finish it, play for all 60 minutes and hold up on the backend. So now that we have a new fresh week, we just got to make sure we stick to our fundamentals and play for 60 minutes.
Q: Has the team lost any confidence or mojo in your mind?
A: No, I don't think our swagger is gone. I don't think anything about who we are and our character is gone. I just feel like it's going to take more confidence for a lot of guys who have to step up and take on these bigger roles.
Q: When you look at what you guys have been able to do consistency-wise throughout the year to this point, can you remain consistent but also crank up the urgency knowing that what lies ahead now is going to really determine (how) this team is viewed this season?
A: December football is the most important football. So, now that we're here, we definitely have to crank up the intensity, crank up the sense of urgency. But again, it's not getting too ahead of ourselves. I think it's just everybody doing their job to a high level and playing for the guy next to him. I feel like we'll come out with the outcome that we want.
Q: What is the best part so far of playing for Brian Daboll? Is there anything about his approach as a head coach that has surprised you at all?
A: No, I think he's done everything for the players, by the players. I think he's just a great coach. I think he's been putting it together. To me, he's probably – again, I've only had one NFL coach – but he's the greatest I've had so far. I love playing for him, and there wouldn't have been any better organization or staff, back office, that was put together than (general manager) Joe (Schoen) and Dabs.
Offensive Lineman Nick Gates
Q: Nick congratulations on the award.
A: Appreciate it, thank you.
Q: What does it mean to be voted on by your teammates? How special does that make this award? How more meaningful does it make it?
A: It's definitely meaningful even if it wasn't voted on by teammates but even more so that my teammates voted on it. They saw me everyday last year putting in the hard work to get back to where I was and all the struggles and all the things I had to overcome. It felt pretty good to get my name called, especially with that two other guys that were in the group with me, with (wide receiver) Sterling (Shepard) and (quarterback) Daniel (Jones). I think that's a good group to get picked out of and it's an honor.
Q: You had seven surgeries overall, you dealt with infections, how did you get through this? How did you endure?
A: To be honest with you, I just took it step by step, day by day. I never tried to look too far ahead and didn't look in the past. What happened happened, and I can't control that part of it, so all I can control is my attitude and what I did every day. I just tried to put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. So, that's all I tried to tell myself.
Q: You're a guy who obviously has learned not to take anything for granted and you have a tremendous appreciation for where you guys are at. Overall, as a team right now going into this next month, for years since you've been here, it's always been about next year. I'm curious what was your sense today when you stepped inside the building that now it's about next month and what lies ahead for this team and what's out there for you guys to go get?
A: We've just got to be playing consistent football and everybody has to be on the same page. First off, we've got to start by going 1-0 against Washington and winning this game this week. That's where our focus is for the week, and we've just got to play good football. Definitely nice to play meaningful football in December. It's the first time that's happened in my career, so it's definitely nice. It makes it mean something to you.
Q: To follow up on that, this Washington front defensively they're a group that you've dug into in years past and you guys have had some success against them. What do they look like now? Are they doing anything differently and how can you continue that success even though you're a different group right now going forward?
A: Yeah, their defensive line, I think it's always been the same since I've been here, I feel like. They have four first rounders starting there and their defensive tackles, (Daron) Payne and (Jonathan) Allen, they're good defensive tackles. I'd probably say they're the two best players on their defense. That whole front, that defensive line is where they make plays on the field. I feel like they do the same thing, they're going to want to get after the passer, rush, and pin their ears back and that's what they want to do.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the offensive line chemistry. I know you guys have had guys come in and out due to injuries. Now that you're in there, what have you been able to do as far as building up the verbal and non-verbal communication? That non-verbal communication being probably the hardest to kind of build up if you will.
A: I feel like our group, we fit in really well together. I feel like we all play really well off each other. Everybody knows what they've got to do, and everybody knows their job and that makes it 10 times easier for an offensive center. It doesn't matter who's in there if everybody knows what to do and knows what their job is and stuff, it makes sure everybody's on the same page, which is nice. I know we have a rookie, but I feel like he carries himself as a veteran at right tackle, he does his job and knows how to do his job, so that definitely helps.
Q: Have you been able to try to take the vocal lead with this group or are you just kind of still feeling your way back since you're a couple of games in now?
A: No, I definitely try to take the vocal lead when it's my turn. When I'm the center, I feel like until Daniel is in the huddle, it's my huddle and I'm going to take over as that guy and once Daniel steps in, it's his. But I feel like that's any center, every center has to kind of be the leader of the group and set the tone. They've just got to make sure everybody's going in the right direction and just go play hard.
Q: How much better did you feel in that second game? Obviously the first game wasn't a start, but you played quite a bit. How much better did you feel in this game having time to prepare and do the things you needed to do to get ready for the game?
A: I try to prepare every week like I'm a starter, no matter if I am or not. You stay ready so you don't have to get ready, right? I feel like it was nice getting in there having the week to know where I'm playing and knowing what I'm going to do for that week. It was nice to be able to get my mind right for that and be able to work with my guards and be able to get fits with them during the week. So that definitely helped. I feel like I'm always ready for whatever. If I'm getting thrown in the middle of the game or not, I think we have a good group on the inside. We're older, so we all understand how to play next to other people and it's part of football and part of offensive line play, you're going to have to play next to other people sometimes.
Q: Do you feel like personally these next six weeks are a real chance for you to cement that center job going forward?
A: We'll see. I've just got to play, put some good film out there and just play the way I play. Do what I've got to do. I feel like center or wherever it's at, I'm going to play hard and try to put the best tape on the film.
Q: Did you work with (guard) Ben (Bredeson) and (tackle) Evan (Neal) on the line?
A: Evan's right tackle, so I don't play much with him but me, Ben, and (center) Jon (Feliciano), we all (have) kind of been rotating through there.
Q: The award has an interesting name, 'Ed Block Courage Award'. Not 'Player of the Year' or 'Lineman of the Year', courage award. What does that word mean to you?
A: Courage, it's just showing that you're not afraid but showing that you can always keep going no matter what the case is. If you're hurt or you're having a bad day, it doesn't matter. Just keep moving forward and keep going forward with it. Keep working no matter what because there's always a light at the end of the tunnel and you've just got to keep going.
Q: Is stepping up to (Dallas linebacker) Micah Parsons when he grabs you, is there some courage involved in that?
A: I guess so, but that's just my game. I feel like I've always been that guy and it doesn't matter who it is, if it's Micah or if it was anybody else, I think it's just what I do. I just play hard and I kind of get under people's skins and they don't like that.
Q: The whole line is not like that, right? You seem to be more of an instigator. The tackles are young and they're like technicians. It seems like that is something unique that you bring, would you agree with that?
A: Yeah, definitely, but I've always been that way. It doesn't matter if it was high school or whatever, I've always played hard, always played tough, and played through the whistle. That's just what I was taught. I never was a great technician in football, so I always had to show another way that I belonged on the field, and I feel like that's my way to be on the field is playing hard and taking that 'enforcer' role, I guess, if you want to call it that. But yeah, I don't know, I think that's part of the way football's supposed to be played. It's a tough, gritty position, especially at offensive lineman. It's fun to me when I get out there and get play like that. What other job in the world do you get to do what you get to do out there?
Q: And not get arrested?