Giants rookie Kaivon Thibodeaux is striving for excellence in execution

The New York Giants were in a very good place when it came to their first two picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. The there were several very good options on the board when their pick came at fifth overall, and it seemed like they couldn’t not improve their squad.

Fans were immediately thrilled when Oregon edge defender Kaivon Thibodeaux was announced as Joe Schoen’s first selection as the Giants’ GM. Thibodeaux sat atop most consensus big boards throughout most of the 2021 season and the Giants desperately needed to help an anemic pass rush that couldn’t get the defense off the field when it really mattered.

But while Thibodeaux was widely regarded as one of the two or three best players in the 2022 draft class for most of the 2021 season, his stock appeared to slip over the course of the draft process. That was largely driven by a public perception that Thibodeaux’s big personality might limit his concentration on football. In particular, a very self-aware press conference at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine rubbed many observers the wrong way.

That said, if beat writers were expecting the rookie to be a boisterous diva on the practice field, they’ve been disappointed.

Thibodeaux has been all business since camp started.

“I mean you got to know how to compartmentalize. There’s a time and place for everything,” Thibodeaux said on Saturday. “So, when we are on the field it’s all business, and now it’s training camp. We’re getting ready for a long journey.”

Thibodeaux said at the Combine that there isn’t anything coaches could tell him that he didn’t already know. He added that he is a student of the game and his own tape tells him what he needs to improve.

So far, that’s been his approach to his rookie training camp, identifying weaknesses and working to improve them.

“Now it’s about bringing everything together,” he said. “When you’re at home training, hitting bags, doing drills it’s one thing. And once you really start to get in that game mode, you got to start putting it together with the play calling with the situations and what you need to get done.

“You always want to continue to get better, and no matter how hard you are working, you still haven’t reached your peak. So, for me to keep sharpening my tools.

Thibodeaux also said that outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins has emphasized that “good isn’t enough.”

Fortunately for the fifth overall pick, he has a pair of teammates who were also drafted in the Top 10 to practice against in Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal.

“Oh, it’s been great. Not just him, but Andrew Thomas. Them as a unit. Me being able to go back and forth. You never – there are no plays off. Everyone asks me, ‘What is the difference between now and I mean college and the NFL,’? It’s like, you have to be 100 percent and have a move every play, there is no getting by. Just going against both of them, and Evan especially is good to continue to grow and share information now and again,” Thibodeaux said.

There’s been a lot of excitement among writers and fans at camp regarding the pressure that Thibodeaux, Elerson Smith, and the rest of Wink Martindale’s defense has been able to put on the offense.

For his part, Thibodeaux poured a bit of cold water on that excitement, and told observers not to read too much into line play in shorts and t-shirts.

“For the whole front line, you really have to judge when the pads come on,” he said. “Because there’s a different type of play. We can’t really bullrush. We can’t use our moves, and we have to hold up on the quarterback. I’d rather lose a rep than get yelled at by (Head Coach Brian Daboll) Dabs. So, we try to stay off the quarterback, and we do. And we want to keep everybody healthy.

“I’m very excited [for pads to go on],” he added. “There are a lot of things as a pass rusher, as a defensive guy, you aren’t able to do without pads. The offense has the baggy jerseys you can just pull on them. Now it’ll be more of a fair game. I’ll be able to use all the moves I’ve been working on.

And it really does seem to be more about process than results for Thibodeaux. He told reporters that he’s more interested in executing his pass rush techniques well than coming up with a highlight reel play that can get tweeted out.

“For me, for me honestly, I don’t really count the sacks. I count the moves. So, it’s all about execution at the end of the day. Obviously, finishing is a part of execution, but for now, I just want to get better and make sure the little things are good within those rushes.

It’s a very mature and self-aware perspective from the rookie. A good process will ultimately yield better and more consistent results. Doing the little things well will keep opponents from exploiting his flaws when things actually matter. And for that reason, Thibodeaux has been hard on himself. But it’s all about knowing himself, his weaknesses, and shoring them up for when the quarterback isn’t his teammate and he’s able to actually hit him.

“As far as looking at how do I grade myself? I grade myself on the execution of moves,” Thibodeaux said. “Right, so today I didn’t have the best execution on the moves I wanted, so it wasn’t a good day. Even though I was working hard and got – probably got the quarterback a couple of times – I still really like to sharpen it and hold myself to a high standard.”

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