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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Giants rookie minicamp observations (Day 2): Evan Neal at RT, Kayvon Thibodeaux as the class clown, UDFA standing out, more

As Giants draft picks, undrafted free agents, tryout players and a couple veterans walked off the practice field at the end of a minicamp practice on Saturday, they were corralled by team staffers for a group photo with coach Brian Daboll. With each photo, the group dwindled.

From all 85 players in attendance, to the 24 players drafted or signed as UDFAs, to just the 11-man draft class, standing alongside Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen.

Sunday is the last day of rookie minicamp, but there won’t be any on-field work. Then, most of those 85 players will shuffle out, and the veterans will start arriving for voluntary OTAs on Monday. For the rookies, this is when things get serious — where they start to see how they stack up against NFL players.

And the Giants, on a roster full of holes, need those young players to learn fast. Most of them will be needed to contribute right away — especially the faces of the draft class, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and offensive tackle Evan Neal, who stood at the center for all three group photos.

Here are some observations from the second rookie minicamp practice, the last one on-field before voluntary OTAs and mandatory veteran minicamp takes place over the next month:

Kayvon Thibodeaux, class clown: At one point, the Giants’ team photographer yelled at the group of players to spread out. Thibodeaux shouted back: “But I thought we’re supposed to love each other!” In every photo, he had the widest smile, and even joked that his mouth was getting sore from smiling so much. Thibodeaux has already won over a lot of Giants fans, and it’s easy to see why — he’s saying all the right things (so far) and always seems to be having a blast.

Evan Neal at right tackle: It is no secret that the Giants drafted Neal out of Alabama to plug him in at right tackle, so that’s where he’s been practicing the last two days. He’ll get to practice for the first time with left tackle Andrew Thomas in the coming weeks. Neal played left tackle at Alabama in 2021, but was right tackle in 2020 — and his experience there is part of what appealed him to the Giants in the NFL Draft.

“It felt great getting back out there in the right tackle stance,” Neal said Saturday. “It brought back some good nostalgia.”

Daboll said the biggest transition from Alabama to the NFL for Neal mostly comes in who he’s going to line up across from, elite athletes and pass rushers just about every week.

“There’s a lot of things he’s going to have to learn and keep building on,” Daboll said. “He’s a mature young guy, he’s played in a lot of different spots, I think that’ll help him too in terms of how he sees it. But as a rookie you have a long way to go with everything.”

Standout undrafted free agent: Nobody can truly stand out at rookie minicamp since its such a light practice with mostly drill work and limited offense-versus-defense activity, but it seems at least one UDFA is helping himself so far: Florida State running back Jashaun Corbin.

“Athletic. Got some quick twitch,” Daboll said. “He had a pretty good day yesterday and stood out a little bit.”

Corbin was projected as a late-round draft pick but the Giants scooped him up in undrafted free agency. He has a legitimate chance to make the team and become a backup behind Saquon Barkley and veteran Matt Breida, as Gary Brightwell and Antonio Williams are currently his only competition on the roster. Corbin rushed for 887 yards and seven touchdowns in 2021, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

Joe the Quarterback? Maybe not. The Giants only brought one quarterback (Brian Lewerke) to rookie minicamp, so they turned to GM Joe Schoen — who started his collegiate career at DePauw University as a QB before transitioning to wide receiver — to help out on Friday. The Giants GM proudly boasted on his way off the practice field on Saturday that he only threw one incompletion, though his arm was sore.

He did not throw any passes on Saturday — that duty was left for Lewerke, who spent some time on the Giants practice squad last year. Wide receivers coach Mike Groh — who played quarterback at Virginia in the 1990s — was throwing passes to his position group during drills.

But how did Schoen do on Friday?

“A lot of tight wobblers out there,” Daboll said, smiling. “They got to where they were supposed to get to.”

Apparently the initial plan was for the Giants to have two quarterbacks. Tre Ford was supposed to be there, per Emory Hunt, but he instead opted to head to training camp for the Edmonton Elks of the Canadian Football League.

So why not bring in anyone other than Lewerke?

“I just thought that was the best thing. He’s been here for a while,” Daboll said. “He knows what we’re doing. It takes a while to teach these guys some of this stuff and he has a pretty good grasp of what we’ve been doing the last month.”

Miscellaneous takeaways:

Friday’s practice there was more of a focus on short throws, but Lewerke took some shots downfield during team drills on Saturday. The pass of the day went to wide receiver Daylen Baldwin, a rookie tryout receiver from Michigan. Lewerke connected with him on a seam route down the middle of the field for a big gain during 7-on-7. Fullback/tight end Jeremiah Hall — who has a sneaky good chance of making the team — caught a Lewerke pass on a wheel route too.

Fourth-round tight end Daniel Bellinger got a few targets in the middle of the field too, though one was poorly thrown and didn’t result in a catch. Bellinger will get a legitimate chance to push Ricky Seals-Jones and Jordan Akins for playing time right away.

A few veterans were around watching practice: Cornerback Darnay Holmes, safety Julian Love and safety Xavier McKinney. Most of the defensive backs skipped voluntary OTAs last year to work out with Logan Ryan in Florida. Don’t expect something similar this time around.

Daboll on project offensive tackle Roy Mbaeteka, who is freakishly large (6-foot-9, 320 pounds) and athletic but has never played a game of football in his life: “The rookies out here have played a lot. We’re starting from ground zero with him and he’s trying to soak everything up. There’s a lot at that position. There’s a lot of words and a lot of communication that goes on. He’s got a great personality … we have a long way to go.”

Daboll has also become something of a Rangers fan — or he’s at least playing it for the crowd as someone who grew up around the Sabres.

“You guys see that goal last night?” Daboll said.

Then, he raved about the Rangers showing the grit to overcome a 3-1 deficit to bring the series to seven games against the Penguins.

“You’re down 3-1 in the series, 2-0 in Game 5 and 2-0 in Game 6 and everybody is writing you off, and what do they do? They just keep competing,” Daboll said. “Put one in right after the other, then the other team comes back, scores right away, lose a little bit of momentum, and finish off the game strong. That’s pretty cool team to watch right now.”

Will he be in the crowd for Game 7 on Sunday night?

“I hope so,” he said.

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Zack Rosenblatt may be reached at zrosenblatt@njadvancemedia.com.

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