Andrew Thomas is in need of a good laugh, but he keeps watching a horror film.
Two weeks of outside criticism following his discouraging performance in the preseason finale have crescendoed now that the Giants are five days away from opening the season against the Broncos. Thomas is deep into film study on pass-rushers Bradley Chubb and Von Miller, who form maybe the NFL’s most fearsome tandem for any struggling young left tackle.
“I have a chip on my shoulder naturally,” Thomas said. “The pressure I put on myself is greater than anything coming from the outside.”
He must be carrying around the weight of the world.
Fairly or not, Thomas — the highest-picked but lowest-graded rookie of the four offensive tackles atop the 2020 draft class — has become for fans the face of the many offensive line miscues during general manager Dave Gettleman’s four-year tenure. The last-second trades to add two guards last week have little to do with Thomas, but he can put out fires for everyone in the organization by playing well against the Broncos.
Thomas anticipates more matchups with Chubb — who was second on the Giants’ draft board to Saquon Barkley in 2018 — than Miller. So, how can he succeed?
“Just being square in your stance,” Thomas said. “He has a lot of power coming off the edge off his speed rush, so you have to have a good punch. You have to reach with your hands well. Then he also has a long arm that he counters with a dip and spins inside sometimes, so just being really square in your stance and having power in your punch.”
Miller, who missed all of last season, and Chubb, who missed most of 2019, have played just four games together since they fed off each other for 26.5 combined sacks in 2018. So, there isn’t much evidence to rule out Miller moving around to take a run at Thomas.
“He’s one of the best of all time to play in the league,” Thomas said, “so you’ve got to be prepared.”
Thomas broadly played better in the second half of last season than he did at the beginning, but he allowed sacks in three of the final four games, including two among seven pressures against the Cardinals. He played through a foot injury that warranted surgery in January and still requires managing, prompting Thomas to sit out last Thursday and report for treatment during the team’s three-day weekend hiatus.
“I’m doing well,” Thomas said. “The days off definitely helped. I’m excited to get back to work. The coaches just thought it was a good day for me to get a little bit of rest.”
Thomas appeared to have a quietly solid training camp — “a lot of good practices,” he self-assessed — until the alarms went off when he allowed two sacks and another pressure in one half against the Patriots. He also struggled in joint practices against Josh Uche, whose career total of one sack is 19.5 fewer than Chubb’s and 105 fewer than Miller’s.
“I try not to pay attention to it,” Thomas said of doom-and-gloom forecasts. “As a unit, we always talk about being confident in your play and having confidence in your preparation. That comes through practice. If you’re focusing on what happened in the past, you won’t be confident for what’s approaching you in the future.”
Giants coach Joe Judge tried to take the spotlight off Thomas.
“It’s funny: Sometimes the assessments on the outside don’t really have the entire picture at hand and understanding all the other 10 pieces that go together,” Judge said. “So, you’ve got to take that with a grain of salt sometimes.”
Thomas characterized his performance against the Patriots as “a learning experience” more than a step backwards. It still is unknown who he will share communication responsibilities with at left guard, whether the injured Shane Lemieux, summer fill-in Kenny Wiggins called up from the practice squad, or a newcomer like Ben Bredeson or Billy Price.
“There’s always techniques to get better at, and when you’re focusing on one thing there might be something else that you have to work on,” Thomas said. “Playing in the NFL, guys are going to expose that. They watch film, so you have to do your best to have everything taken care of.”