EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When Shane Lemieux got into his stance for the first play of his initial NFL start, the defensive lineman directly across from him was Ndamukong Suh, a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro.
Next to Lemieux at left tackle was fellow rookie Andrew Thomas, whose blocking assignment much of the game was Jason Pierre-Paul, who has 86.0 sacks and two Pro Bowl selections.
Both Suh and JPP each had sacks in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 25-23 victory against the Giants Monday night. But Joe Judge was pleased not only with the performances of his young linemen but the benefit they received from squaring off against two accomplished veterans.
"I think it's big for these guys," Judge said. "You look at some of the guys that Andrew has had to block throughout his first wave of being an NFL player, and the learning experience he's had to have and go through and the improvement he's made along the way. He's had to deal with a great amount of adversity and some situations along the way, and I see him respond the right way. But to line up against a guy like JPP, who's very, very talented, right now he's one of the most productive players in the league. He's a sack guy, he's a pressure guy, he's an aggressive player. I thought Andrew held up and did a really nice job working. There are some things we have to correct and keep moving on from, but that's going to be a theme as we keep on going with all players all the time. But I'm pleased with the way he's working, and I'm really pleased with the way he competes. You turn the tape on, this guy fights for 60 minutes and I'm really pleased with that.
"For Shane to go against a guy like Ndamukong Suh, a very talented, very accomplished, older vet who's seen a number of guys come in front of him, Shane was able to mix it up a little bit with him. There are some things he has to learn from as well. But the one thing they can look at everyone else across the way as we go through the season and know it's the NFL, they're all good players. But we've seen some of the top-tiered guys, so you can build on that confidence."
They'll see more top competition again on Sunday, when the Giants will face the Washington Football team for the second time in four games. Washington boasts one of the NFL's very best defensive lines, one that is the primary reason the team is fourth in the NFL in yards allowed per-game (309.1). The front includes five first-round draft choices, in Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan and Chase Young, who was selected second overall in the 2020 draft, two spots ahead of Thomas.
Thomas has been a first-team tackle since joining the Giants but did not start the 20-19 victory against Washington on Oct. 18 because he was late for a meeting the previous night. Matt Peart started in his place and the two rookie linemen split snaps relatively evenly.
Because they were drafted just two spots apart, play in the same division and go head-to-head when their teams face each other, Thomas and Young will remain linked. Young has started all six games in which he's played and has 19 tackles, including 2.5 sacks.
"He's a great player," Thomas said. "That whole front is very talented. They have some really good pass rushers. Chase, in particular, is very athletic. Very good lateral quickness, he can move side to side pretty well. It's going to be a good matchup for all of us. … Montez Sweat, Kerrigan, all those guys are really good. I can't get too focused on one guy because I'm going to see multiple in a game."
Because Young and Co. will be the first NFL opponent he faces a second time, Thomas will have the benefit of familiarity.
"I think it's the same approach," Thomas said. "You go back in like you don't know anything about the team. Looking at all their different pressures, looking at their fronts. You go back and watch the games they played since they played us and see if there's any adjustments. See if there is anything they would do differently than the first time."
This game will certainly be different for Lemieux, whose action in the first Washington game consisted of one special teams snap. And before he participated in all 74 offensive plays against the Buccaneers, he had just two offensive snaps, including one at fullback.
But when Will Hernandez – who had started all 39 games in his career - was placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 list, Lemieux was the next man up at left guard.
"Obviously, it's a lot different," he said. "My adrenaline was rushing pretty good. I felt like I was prepared. I felt like I was ready to handle the task. I didn't let the moment get too big and I just played. I think every play, even at practice we see some really good D-linemen. Nothing really shocked me. It is the NFL so every single play the guy you are going against is really good."
Lemieux met that challenge and impressed all the right people.
"The level of competitiveness he plays with, some nasty, he definitely gave us some juice in there," Judge said. "Look, you line up for your first snap in the NFL and you're seeing Ndamukong Suh across from you right there, that's a 'welcome to the NFL, buddy.' But this guy didn't blink. He didn't shy away from anything. He really answered the bell for us."
Lemieux even got to enjoy a signature moment. When Wayne Gallman scored on a two-yard run in the second quarter, he handed the ball to Lemieux, who executed a spike that Rob Gronkowski – the spike master who was on the Tampa Bay sideline – might have disowned.
"We were all pretty juiced," Lemieux said. "I was pretty juiced. Wayne handed me the ball and I didn't really know what to do with it. I was like, you know what, spike it, so I did. That's what happened and everyone is kind of giving me a little bit of hell for it because it was a bad spike. I was just so juiced and excited to be in the moment. I just wanted to celebrate with my team, and I thought that was pretty cool."
As Thomas and Lemieux have learned, so is starting in the NFL as a rookie.
View rare photos of the all-time series between the New York Giants and the Washington Football Team.
*The Giants today placed cornerback Ryan Lewis on injured reserve. He has a hamstring injury that kept him out of Monday night's game against Tampa Bay.
Lewis is the second Giants defensive back to be placed on I.R. this week, joining safety Adrian Colbert, who has a shoulder injury. They must miss a minimum of three games before becoming eligible to return.
Lewis joined the Giants on Sept. 8, three days after he was released by the Washington Football Team. He two stints on the practice squad before joining the active roster for the second time on Sept. 22. Lewis played in five games with three starts and was credited with 12 tackles (10 solo) and one passed defensed, plus one special teams tackle. He and fellow corner James Bradberry were the only Giants to play all 81 defensive snaps at Philadelphia on Oct. 22, Lewis' most recent game.
*The only player on the Giants' final injury report was running back Devonta Freeman, who will miss his second straight game with an ankle injury.
*Washington listed two players as doubtful: wide receiver Dontrelle Inman (hamstring), who caught five passes for 45 yards in the first meeting; and tackle Geron Christian (knee), who started that game but has since been replaced in the lineup by Cornelius Lucas.
*The Giants will take their first trip by train this season when they travel to Maryland tomorrow. As with everything else they've done this season, restrictions will be in place and changes have been made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"They've actually arranged to have the train in the station early so that our crew can go in there and deep clean it and sanitize it for our players," Judge said. "We're then going to ride the train. The players are always assigned which bus they're going to be on. We try to stagger the personnel, whether it's coaches or players, by positions, by groupings to make sure that we don't have, for example, all of the offensive line on one bus together, something happens and they all go ahead and get pinged. We try to stagger and spread out the personnel as it is. We'll do the same thing with the trains. The players will have a bus assignment and a train car assignment when they go down to Washington.
"I'd say the biggest thing with the train, obviously with trains, you can flip the seats around, you can stay there, you can talk and hang out and play cards. We have to make those adjustments now going to Washington. We can't do that. It'll be very much like riding on the bus. We're going to have to make sure we close off certain seating locations to make sure we're spaced out. You have to take into account the tracers that we're wearing to make sure we're that six feet apart, as well as just spacing for the health of everybody. Really our trainers are going to handle that part of it, of walking car to car and making sure before we take off that everyone is in the right seating, we have the right spacing and that everyone is kind of fit to go down there. Look, it's a three-hour trip. Ultimately, it's nice to be able to take a train instead of having to get on a plane and wait to take off. It's a pretty smooth traveling deal. We're looking forward to it. It helps us, you can always work on it. Part of the delay when you want to work on the plane is you get on the plane, there's the loading and unloading process, the taking off kind of delays you. On the train, you can just jump on, pop the laptop open and watch some tape, or players watch their iPads, and get going pretty fast with it."