EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Three of the Giants' last four first-round draft choices were not on the practice field Wednesday, and the team must continue to compensate for their absence as they prepare for their home game Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas (2020) was placed on injured reserve yesterday with foot and ankle injuries. He must miss at least three games, meaning Thomas can return no earlier than the Nov. 22 Monday night game at defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay. Running back Saquon Barkley (2018) was inactive for the Giants' loss to the Los Angeles Rams because of a sprained ankle he suffered the previous week in Dallas. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney (2021) aggravated an ankle injury after making his third and final catch on the opening drive against the Rams.
Also absent was wide receiver Kenny Golladay, whose knee injury kept him out of the Rams game.
The good news is that quarterback Daniel Jones (the team's top draft choice in 2019) remains healthy and practiced fully. But he will lead an offense on Sunday that will again be at less than full strength.
Without Thomas, the Giants' remaining tackles are Nate Solder, Matt Peart, and Korey Cunningham, who was signed off the practice squad yesterday. Solder has started all six games this season, at right tackle in five games and at left tackle in Dallas, where Thomas was in uniform but did not play. When Thomas left the game last week early in the second quarter, Peart stepped in at left tackle.
So, who will play where against the Panthers?
"You'll see all three tackles play this week," coach Joe Judge said. "I would expect all of our guys to play both right and left. That's what we're going to practice and prepare this week. You'll see Nate, Matt and Cunningham out there.
"It's our job to have all the players prepared. It's their job to be prepared and go out there and be productive. You don't want to lose any player. I think Andrew has done a really good job obviously going through some stuff in the offseason, coming back, played very well. He's been improving as a player throughout his career for us. He's a guy on the offensive line that we have a lot of confidence in as a player. He prepares extremely well and does a good job coming in ready to go every day. But we're confident in Matt, Nate and Cunningham getting out there and playing for us as well."
Judge and the Giants' players have continually praised Thomas' performance this season.
"He's played well, and I hate to see him go down," said Jones, who appreciates Thomas protecting his blindside. "I know he's dealing with a lot with those injuries. We've got a lot of confidence in the guys stepping up, and Matt's played at a really high level this season as well, so he'll step in and whoever else is in there we have a ton of confidence in, so looking forward to working with them."
Judge indicated Toney, the exciting rookie, could return soon.
"We haven't had any conversations that would lead to anything with IR, I'm telling you right now," Judge said.
Judge was asked "what's the plan" for Barkley, Golladay, Toney, and another wide receiver, Darius Slayton, who has missed three games with a hamstring injury.
"Darius will be out here with us today," Judge said. "K.T., we'll see where he's going to be. He's going to start with the trainers, and we'll see where that goes today and see where it goes leading into tomorrow. Much the same with Saquon and Golladay, we'll see where they are. We're not going to plan on those guys doing a whole lot with us today, kind of more see how they get out today with the trainers and what tomorrow looks like for them. No hard timelines and no one really being eliminated (for the game) at this point."
Injuries are as much a part of football as handoffs and touchdowns. The Giants have been hit particularly hard because many of their best players have been sidelined. That raises a familiar question: are injuries uncontrollable or is it possible to minimize them?
"I think there are certain injuries that you can help to minimize through the physical conditioning and preparation and then there are other things that we've really seen within the games that are just sometimes unavoidable," Judge said. "Sometimes they're pretty traumatic injuries. There's nothing really (center) Nick Gates could have done differently to avoid his injury (a fractured lower left leg that required multiple surgeries and ended his season). There's nothing you could have done to really prepare him to avoid that injury. That's just the reality of it – (wide receiver) C.J. Board the other day with the (fractured) forearm (which landed him on I.R. yesterday with Thomas). There's certain things you can't really avoid.
"You don't want to see any of your players get hurt, you don't want to see any player get hurt. In terms of the injuries, unfortunately, that's part of the game, but it's part of the game that we all sign up (for). It's our job to prepare every player, it's every player's job to be ready to produce. We have that next man up mentality. Obviously, we're not trying to push anybody out of the way, but when something happens, we've got to keep moving forward. That game is going to be played either way."
The Giants may have to play another one without some of their most productive players.
*Cornerback Aaron Robinson and outside linebacker Elerson Smith, the Giants' third and fourth-round draft choices this year, practiced for the first time since the season began. Robinson, from Central Florida, has been on the reserve/physically unable to perform list since training camp began with a core muscle injury that required offseason surgery. Smith, who played at Northern Iowa, was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 1 with a hamstring injury he suffered early in training camp. When Northern Iowa and the rest of FCS football moved its 2020 season to spring 2021, Smith opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft. He has not played in a game since Dec. 13, 2019.
"(Robinson will) be out there today at practice with us and we'll see how he moves around," Judge said. "We haven't really had an opportunity to see this guy going full tilt since he's been here. We're looking forward to getting him and Elerson out there and giving them a chance to get working with the team."
The Giants have three weeks to activate either or both players or shut one or both down for the remainder of their rookie season.
*In addition to Barkley, Golladay, and Toney, three Giants did not practice: wide receiver John Ross (hamstring), tight end Kaden Smith (knee) and rookie linebacker Azeez Ojulari (not injury related, personal matter).
Three players were limited: Slayton (knee), offensive lineman Ben Bredeson (hand) and defensive lineman Danny Shelton (pec).
View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers.