By Ralph Vacchiano
FOX Sports NFC East writer
This has been a decade of despair for the New York Giants, with insults constantly piled on top of injuries. But it’s the injuries that have really been maddening for them.
Any plans they might have had to rebuild their franchise were constantly undermined by a line of broken-down, unhealthy players.
Their run of horrible luck has continued this summer, with far too many key players stuck on the sidelines. It was as if the Giants couldn’t catch a break.
Then, on Monday morning, they finally did.
In a somewhat unfamiliar reversal of fortune, New York got good news when an MRI showed edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux — their first of two high first-round draft picks — only suffered a sprained MCL in the Giants’ preseason victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night. It sure looked worse than that when he took a cut-block to his right knee from Bengals tight end Thaddeus Moss. The initial fear was that he had suffered a season-ending torn ACL.
Instead, Thibodeaux is only expected to be out three or four weeks, which — “fingers crossed,” as coach Brian Daboll said — keeps the season opener Sept. 11 at Tennessee theoretically in play (though the home opener Sept. 18 against Carolina would seem like a better bet).
That’s really good news for a couple of reasons. For one, Thibodeaux is the expected savior of a Giants pass rush that has been dormant for most of the last decade. They haven’t had a stud pass rusher to strike fear into opposing offenses since Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora were still on their roster.
The 6-foot-5, 258-pound Thibodeaux — who some thought might be the best pass rusher in the 2022 draft — is expected to be that guy.
And the way the Giants envisioned it, his presence in defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s aggressive scheme, was going to turn the pass-rushing group from decent to dangerous.
Leonard Williams has been a terrific player for the Giants, but he never has been the pass-rusher he was expected to be. In fact, he had only 6 ½ sacks last season — down from a career-high 11 ½ the year before. A lot of that was due to all the double-teams he faced, even as rookie linebacker Azeez Ojulari was getting eight sacks on the other side.
Thibodeaux was expected to relieve some of that pressure, to help confuse offenses that now had to essentially pick their poison. They theoretically wouldn’t be able to double-team Thibodeaux, Williams and Ojulari while still worrying about Martindale’s penchant for calling a secondary blitz.
But Thibodeaux was the key. He needed to be as good as the Giants expected — as good as so many scouts thought he’d be early in the draft process, before he began to slip down some draft boards around the league. The Giants spent a lot of time and money scouting Thibodeaux. GM Joe Schoen even made the trip all the way out to Oregon to meet with him over dinner. They were absolutely convinced he was the real deal and potentially a star player.
Behind the prized rookie on the Giants’ depth chart — especially with veteran Jihad Ward nursing his own injury — there’s really nothing there.
So there were definitely sighs of relief inside the Giants’ facility that, in the words of Daboll, Thibodeaux was “day to day.”
And really, it was more than just a sigh, because good injury news is so rare around the Giants these days. Already, six of their 11 draft picks are injured, including two — offensive lineman Marcus McKethan (fifth round) and linebacker Darrian Beavers (sixth) — who are out for the season with torn ACLs. And more than two-dozen players missed Sunday’s second preseason game with at least minor injuries, including receiver Kadarius Toney, center Jon Feliciano, guard Shane Lemieux, Leonard WIlilams, Jihad Ward and tight end Ricky Seals-Jones.
This is the tightrope they’ve been walking for years now, but it was supposed to be different under the new regime of Schoen and Daboll. However, it took less than a month into training camp for everyone to start wondering: How many more hits can they take?
The loss of Thibodeaux would’ve been a big one, but at least that’s one they managed to duck. Getting him back for the season opener seems ambitious, but at least he’s not lost for the season and won’t need surgery that will keep him out for a month or longer.
There’s still uncertainty. Daboll, as is his way, dodged specifics on Thibodeux’s expected return, saying only “hopefully his rehab goes well.”
But that’s good enough news for a team that has been cursed, snake-bitten and besieged with injuries for far too long. They believe the new regime is well on its way to changing things around the Giants franchise for the better. But they simply can’t do that if their best players can’t stay on the field.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and the Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that he spent 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. A Long Island, N.Y. native and graduate of Syracuse University, he can be found on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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Source: FOX Sports