EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — New York Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has been asked about talented edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux so much, he quips that he feels like a defense attorney for the No. 5 overall draft pick in 2022.
Why is he not getting sacks? Why is he not having a bigger impact? Why hasn't there been more pressures?
The questions are starting to go in a new direction: For instance: “How good can this kid be?”
Thibodeaux is opening eyes in recent weeks with dominant performances. The Oregon product had a career-high three sacks in the Giants' 13-10 overtime loss to the Jets on Sunday and that came a week after he had 1 1/2 sacks, including a strip-sack, in New York's 14-7 win over Washington.
His 8 1/2 sacks this season are tied for third in the NFL, 1 1/2 behind Danielle Hunter of Minnesota and a half sack behind Josh Allen of Jacksonville. The guys who share the No. 3 spot with Thibodeaux are T.J. Watt of Pittsburgh and Myles Garrett of Cleveland. That's outstanding company.
“I think he’s a great person," Martindale said Thursday before the Giants (2-6) practiced for Sunday’s game in Las Vegas against the Raiders (3-5). “He’s becoming a leader of this defense as well. I think that his hard work is really paying off for him.”
Martindale said few see how hard Thibodeaux works, from studying in the classroom, looking at opposing tackles, perfecting his moves and just being coachable.
Outside linebacker coach Drew Wilkins seemingly is always working with him.
“He’s taking advantage of situations when he gets one-on-ones,” said Martindale, who has never coached a linebacker with double-digit sacks in his NFL career.
”Right now, I’m at 8 1/2 sacks, most sacks I’ve ever had in the NFL, so it’s like, it’s only up from here," said Thibodeaux, who had four as a rookie in 2022. “The bar keeps continuing to move and I’m proud of that.”
Thibodeaux admits he has looked at the sack leaders in the NFL this season and even he is impressed by the company he is keeping. He laughed about it.
“I’ll be honest,” he said. “Yeah, because now you are chasing something, sometimes when your team is not in the best position, you start to look at it like what can I use to motivate me or what motivation can you bring to the defense or the guys around, and it’s playing good football.”
Martindale has not hesitated to keep Thibodeaux on the field. Over the past three games, he has played all but eight plays.
“Oh man — sacrifice your body, glorify your soul,” Thibodeaux said. “You know, you go out there and play hard, it’s going to hurt, but you know I guess the recognition feels a lot better.”
While he was in good condition prior to his rookie season, Thibodeaux said it wasn't good enough, especially playing at a faster pace than college. The other thing that helped him was playing on a front line with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.
“When you have great players alongside of you, it’s only right that you raise your level of play to theirs,” Thibodeaux said. “Dex has been playing great and he’s going to continue to play great and I want to continue to match him so that we can be a great front and a great defense.”
Giants coach Brian Daboll said neither backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor (bruised ribs) nor former Raiders and current New York tight end Darren Waller (hamstring) are likely to play on Sunday.
While the Giants insist there is nothing wrong with placekicker Graham Gano, who has missed three of his past four field-goal attempts in the past two games, Mason Crosby was in the locker room after practice. Former Giant Robbie Gould also has had a tryout.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Tom Canavan, The Associated Press