EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari are seemingly inseparable on the field for the New York Giants.
When practiced started Sunday at training camp, the two outside linebackers warmed up together. They laughed and joked during an early break and when the first-team defense ran drills, they were on opposite ends of the line, ready to pounce and deliver big plays.
That was the plan last year, too. The young bookend backers and edge rushers were going to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks and offenses playing in coordinator Wink Martindale’s aggressive defense.
It didn’t happen.
The fifth pick overall in the draft, Thibodeaux sustained a knee injury in the preseason, missed the first two regular-season games and started 14 of the next 15 games and two in the playoffs. He finished with four sacks, 49 tackles, 13 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and two recoveries, including a strip-sack for a TD against Washington in December.
“Last year’s film kind of disgusts me a little bit when I look at myself,” Thibodeaux said. “I get a little cringe feeling. But it definitely is, like I said, a platform to continue to grow.”
Last season was a struggle with injuries for Ojulai.
Coming off a team-high eight sacks as a rookie in 2021, he was limited to seven regular-season games by a hamstring pull, two calf injuries and ankle problems.
Still, the Georgia product had 14 tackles, seven quarterback hits and 5 1/2 sacks, second only to Dexter Lawrence’s 7 1/2 sacks.
“Most important goal for me this season is to play all 17 games, stay healthy,” Ojulari said. “That’s my main goal for me.”
Both players have adjusted their offseason workout programs in looking to get the Giants back to the playoffs. Ojulari dropped weight. Thibodeaux became a gym rate, a health nut and more of a professional in his training.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Thibodeaux said of playing again with Ojulari. “For him on paper, you know how many sacks he had to how many plays he had, if you can get him 17 games, who knows how many sacks you’ll get? Yeah, he’s definitely one of the most talented pass rushers I’ve ever played with.”
Thibodeaux not only can rush the passer, but he has instincts and speed to play sideline to sideline.
“He has all the tools and the sky’s the limit for him,” Ojulari said.
The two are pushing each other.
“We’re always competing in our room or whatever,” Ojulari said. “Everything we do, we always compete. Every single thing, every rep, even if it’s a get-off competition, we try to see who’s going to get off the fastest and who going to make the most plays. I feel like as we keep that competition up, every single day is going to translate to the game.”
Thibodeaux would not talk about goals for his second season in numerical terms.
“I just want to be great,” the Oregon product said. “I want to help my team win. I want to be a guy who can make plays and make the plays when they count.”
NOTES: Veteran Sterling Shepard was taken off the physically unable to perform list and fellow receiver Jamison Crowder was activated off the non-football injury list. Shepard is attempting a comeback from an ACL injury in September. Nine months earlier his 2021 season ended with an Achilles tendon injury. … The Giants longest-tenured player, Shepard will have to work hard to earn a roster spot. New York signed Crowder, Parris Campbell and Cole Beasley as free agents, drafted Jalin Hyatt, and have Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins returning. “Whatever decision or however it shakes out, that’s just the way it shakes out,” the 30-year-old Shepard said. “It isn’t anything that I can do about it but do what I do, so that’s the way that I approach it. Every day.” Safety Jason Pinnock intercepted Daniel Jones’ red zone pass on the final play of practice to give a defense a win on a sudden-death play. The result was the offense had to run a wind sprint. … Beasley returned to practice after missing a workout on Friday because of a quad injury. … Defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches was on the field with a non-contract red jersey. He was injured in a car accident on Tuesday and missed the first three practices. Outside linebacker Jihad Ward (undisclosed) and tight end Ryan Jones (knee) did not practice.