EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ
Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal were acquaintances when the New York Giants drafted them with the fifth and seventh overall picks in the NFL Draft in late April.
Now it seems like they’re related in more ways than one: they’re teammates and friends, two great men who went head-to-head every day of training camp. And as the first week ended on Saturday, the rookies were also penciled in as starters and a lot is expected.
Linebacker and edge rusher from Oregon, Thibodeaux will line up on both sides in the defense of coordinator Wink Martindale. Neal, who came out of Alabama and was the second of New York’s first-round picks, has been on the right tackle since hosting team activities in the spring.
“They explained that they were counting on us, but I am counting on myself to make the plays and live up to the goals I have set for myself,” Thibodeaux said. “It’s been a great journey so far, and I know they believe in us. And they gave us all the tools to continue to rise. So now it’s up to us to make that happen.
Neal and Thibodeaux had occasionally bumped into each other at summer camps when they were in high school. Alabama and Oregon have never met on the field in their college careers.
“It’s so ironic that we ended up on the same NFL team,” Neal said. “I’m just excited to go against him every day, to improve. I believe that iron sharpens iron.
The Giants got the extra first-round pick after trading with the Chicago Bears in the 2021 draft to go from the 12th overall pick to the No. 20.
After five straight losing seasons, the Giants need Thibodeaux and Neal to perform well as rookies if things are going to start to turn around under coach Brian Daboll. New York posted a 4-13 record in 2021.
The two quickly took over the playbook: Thibodeaux showed his ability to reach the setter and Neal blocked well.
“He beats me a few reps, I give him a few reps. That’s what it’s all about, that’s the name of the game – getting better,” Neal said.
However, the practices took place in shorts and jerseys. Things change next week when the pads are in place.
Thibodeaux has gone from being a big talker in the early days after the draft to more professional since camp opened.
“You have to know how to compartmentalize,” Thibodeaux said. “There is a time and a place for everything. So when you’re in the field, it’s business, and now it’s training camp. We are preparing for a long journey.
Neal said the two don’t share notes off the pitch for fear of giving the other an advantage.
“We just put our heads down and we worked,” Neal said.
The Giants will take that kind of attitude.
NOTES: Safety Dane Belton intercepted a pass from Daniel Jones in the end zone. … Cornerback Darnay Holmes forced a fumble from Saquon Barkley and defensive back Julian Love had a long comeback. … Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor showed his athleticism as he dunked the ball over the crossbar after running for a touchdown.
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