EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants top pick Kayvon Thibodeaux says he feels “really confident” in being ready to make his NFL debut Sunday against the Carolina Panthers despite being limited in practice for the second consecutive day. The rookie missed the opener because of a sprained right MCL he suffered in the second preseason game three-plus weeks ago.
Coach Brian Daboll said that Thibodeaux participated in team drills Wednesday. Thibodeaux said he did a bit more at Thursday’s practice. The No. 5 pick in this year’s draft worked on the side with a trainer and rode the stationary bike during most of the period of practice open to the media.
“Getting close,” Thibodeaux said Thursday. “Like I said, trying not to look too far — what is today? Today is Thursday – still have Friday, Saturday. I’m really confident in this Sunday.”
Thibodeaux said he was feeling “a lot better” than he had previously. He still has some hurdles to clear and labeled himself day-to-day. He will see how he progresses over the next few days before any final decision is made.
The Giants (1-0) won in Tennessee without both starting edge rushers: Azeez Ojulari and Thibodeaux. Ojulari was also limited at Thursday’s practice as he tries to get back from a calf injury incurred at practice this summer.
Wide receiver Kadarius Toney also made an appearance on the injury report Thursday. He was limited with a hamstring injury, a problem he also dealt with this summer.
Thibodeaux’s and Ojulari’s presence would be a big boost against a Carolina offense that has quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Christian McCaffrey, and wide receivers D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson.
“Well, you’re talking about two first-round[-level talented], so it’s a huge benefit,” Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said about the prospects of them returning. “But no matter what, that game’s going to get kicked off.”
Thibodeaux was always a long shot to play in the opener. It was exactly three weeks from the injury, and he was given a timeline of three to four weeks for his return.
So right from the start, Week 2 or 3 seemed more likely for his return. It makes sense for the Giants to think long term with their top draft pick.
“We’ve been making great gains,” Thibodeaux said. “Ultimately it will come to how I feel on Friday and Saturday. But everything is going well and I’m optimistic about it.”
Thibodeaux said in the locker room after Sunday’s win in Tennessee that he likely would have played had it been the Super Bowl. He was asked Thursday whether he would have played if the game had been that day.
“Well, the game is not today,” he said. “So we’ll just keep taking it day to day. I was able to practice [Thursday], so I did 100% get better. I think that is the way to go, continue to get better every day.”
The plan is for Thibodeaux to play only if it’s without restrictions. The Giants don’t want a compromised version of the explosive pass-rusher.
Thibodeaux has been wearing a brace on his right knee at practice that he hasn’t found too uncomfortable or limiting.
“If I’m on the field, I’ll be 100%,” he said. “Right now, I’d say it’s day-to-day. … I’m very optimistic.”