Exclusive: Giants’ Andrew Thomas, Evan Neal ‘Building Something Special?’

Andrew Thomas

Getty Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas was designated to return to practice on Wednesday, November 17.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Their showdowns have drawn the eyeballs of the thousands of fans in attendance each day at practice, and they just might be offering a glimpse of the New York Giants‘ future.

New York’s pair of top-10 selections in the 2022 NFL draft, EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux and offensive tackle Evan Neal have frequently been paired opposite one another both during one-on-one drills and team periods.

There have certainly been reps where Thibodeaux, chosen No. 4 overall, has gotten the better of Neal, who came off the board three picks later, such as the Oregon alum drawing a holding flag as he burst off the edge against the Alabama product during Wednesday’s August 3 practice.

However, new Giants GM Joe Schoen is betting big that a pair of the SEC’s finest over the past half-decade will anchor this rebuilt line for the next one.

One of Neal’s biggest proponents happens to be his bookend, 2020 No. 4 overall pick Andrew Thomas.

“Evan is definitely a talented kid,” Thomas told Heavy, following Wednesday’s practice. “And, he’s a physical freak. Just look at him.”

Neal certainly is a towering presence along the offensive line, checking in at 6-foot-8 and 337 pounds. He arrives in East Rutherford with all the tools to develop into a future All-Pro.

In his final season in Tuscaloosa, Neal allowed just two sacks and eight hurries, against some of the premier edge rushers in the nation. Pro Football Focus awarded Neal a career-best 85.8 overall grade.

Thomas has already taken Neal under his wing, hoping that the former Alabama standout hits the ground running in his rookie season, playing on the opposite side of the offensive line.

“[Andrew is] definitely a great resource to lean on,” Neal told reporters on July 30. “Because he’s been through it. He’s been a top-10 pick, a lot of expectations coming in, and I feel like he’s handled himself very well. I’m extremely grateful to have an asset and a resource like that.”

Playing in a division where Neal and Thomas will face the likes of the Commanders’ Chase Young and Montez Sweat, the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence and Dante Fowler, and the Eagles’ Brandon Graham, Montez Sweat, and Haason Reddick, the Giants are betting big that their pair of bookends will form the foundation of a long overdue rebuild.

According to Giants head coach Brian Daboll, Neal’s already off to a fast start.

“There’s good competitiveness out there,” Daboll told reporters on July 30. “Evan’s done a really good job this camp.”

Exclusive: Giants LT Andrew Thomas on Year 3, Daniel Jones & rookie Evan NealHeavy's NFL insider Matt Lombardo talks 1-on-1 at training camp with New York Giants LT Andrew Thomas about expectations for the 2022 season, Daniel Jones and rookie first-rounder Evan Neal.2022-08-04T13:48:08Z

Andrew Thomas’ Rapid Ascension

It hasn’t been very long since fans and some in the media quickly labeled Thomas a “bust.”

Thomas’ rookie season, he admits, wasn’t exactly him putting his best foot forward.

Similarly to Neal, the Giants saw incredible upside in Thomas after he stonewalled some of the SEC’s elite at the University of Georgia, and made him the first offensive tackle chosen in the draft.

However, at one point Thomas was benched by former Giants head coach Joe Judge, wound up splitting time for a stretch, and his performance left much to be desired. That season, Thomas allowed 10.0 sacks, eight hits, and 57 pressures in 615 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

Beneath the surface, and behind the seasons, though, Thomas was getting back to basics and refining his technique, which helped springboard him to a far more consistent and far more dominant second half of the year.

“During my rookie year, every week, even though I may not have been playing as well as I would have wanted to,” Thomas said. “There were things I was getting better at every day in practice. The coaching staff, even though the coaching changes, there were things I improved on. Even today, there are things that I’m trying to work on, and every day is a day to build.”

The back half of his rookie campaign in 2020 was seemingly a springboard for Thomas, who now has a legitimate argument to be considered among the top offensive tackles in the game.

If Thomas is able to build on the strong foundation he set in 2021, where he finished as Pro Football Focus’ No. 19 ranked tackle after allowing only two sacks and 18 total pressures, the Giants just might be well on their way to stabilizing what has been one of the league’s worst offensive lines for over a decade.

Giants ‘Building Something Special?’

For all the optimism surrounding Thomas and Neal, make no mistake, the overhaul of the Giants’ offensive line is still in its infancy.

After all, this is a group that finished last season as Pro Football Focus’ ranked No. 30 in the NFL, with Thomas as the only player receiving an overall grade above 70, and a unit that will field four new starters when the Giants kickoff the regular season in Tennessee on September 11.

Compounding matters, and potentially lengthening the timeline for just how long until the Giants’ line resembles a group capable of paving the way to championship contention is former general manager Dave Gettleman’s chronic mismanagement of the salary cap and poor judgment of talent at the position hamstrung new GM Joe Schoen in his efforts to fortify the line this offseason.

Instead of shopping at the top of the market, Schoen perused the clearance racks in free agency, adding veteran center Jon Feliciano to a one-year deal worth $1.15 million, guard Mark Glowinski to a three-year deal worth $18.3 million, and Shane Lemieux is very much in the mix to start at guard, alongside Thomas.

On the surface, the Giants’ line feels like Schoen is trying to patch a hole on a sinking ship in hopes it survives this season before investing in a proverbial luxury yacht when he’ll have upwards of $48.7 million in cap space this offseason — second-most in the NFL, to throw at the line.

Still, Thomas sees progress and reason for optimism.

“I think as an offensive line we’re starting to gel,” Thomas said. “We’re putting something together, and when we get on the field we could be dominant.”

Thomas still believes that he has plenty more upside, and plenty more growing to do from here, which could prove to be bad news for defensive ends and outside linebackers across the NFL.

His goal for the upcoming season? Stringing together far more good reps, improved technique, and dominant plays.

“Growing into a leader on the field and adding more consistency,” Thomas explained. “I’ve had some good plays, but there have been times where I have lapses in my technique, and I just want to be consistent as possible.”

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