Giants offensive lineman Evan Neal participates in team drills during training...

Giants offensive lineman Evan Neal participates in team drills during training camp in East Rutherford, N.J., on Tuesday. Credit: Noah K. Murray

Kayvon Thibodeaux had to pay $50,000 to charity to get the jersey number he wanted from kicker Graham Gano in the spring.

Fellow first-round pick Evan Neal just had to be patient to get his desired digits.

The rookie right tackle switched numbers from the 70 he was assigned when he first arrived with the Giants to 73, the number he has worn since high school and throughout his career at Alabama. That number had belonged to veteran Matt Gono when Neal was drafted but earlier this week Gono was released after his surgically-repaired neck could not withstand the rigors of training camp.

On Tuesday, Neal debuted his new look.

“You know when Michael Jordan wore number 45 but had to switch back to 23?” Neal said of finding comfort in the familiar. “It doesn’t really affect the way that you play by any means. A number can’t play for you. But I’m just feeling more comfortable.”

It’s the latest step toward becoming the player the Giants think Neal can be for them, not just long term but this season. While there have been some hiccups as he has worked to become adjusted to a new side of the line (he had played right tackle early at Alabama but was mostly on the left side last season) and adapt to the new techniques the Giants are teaching him (they want their linemen to be more aggressive in their pass protection sets rather than reactive), Neal has been improving throughout training camp. Those reps where he was getting smoked in one-on-one drills from last week have become distant memories.

“I'm at the highest level so obviously you're going to win some and you’re going to lose some,” he said. “The most important thing is to keep on fighting and win the next play.”

That can be a difficult thing for a rookie, especially one who is not used to being beaten never mind embarrassed in college, to grasp. But Neal is a first-year player in name only.

“I’ve never seen a rookie be a vet so early on,” center Jon Feliciano said of Neal’s attitude on and off the field.

Neal said he likes the new technique he is being taught.

“I'm a big guy, I'm strong, I'm long, and a lot of times when I get my hands on somebody I can shut it down right now,” he said. “My job is to keep guys off of the quarterback, so whatever way possible, whatever way works best in that moment that’s what I'm going to use. Whether I've got to aggressively set a guy, or I've got to be more patient and take an angle set, whatever way I need to get the job done that’s how I'm going to get the job done.”

As for his run blocking, well, the Giants don’t want to tinker with that too much.

“He’s the size of a bus,” offensive line coach Bobby Johnson said. “You get in the way of it you are probably going to get moved.”

We’ll see what that looks like Thursday night when Neal makes his NFL debut in the preseason opener in New England.

“I expect it to be fast, aggressive, up-tempo, and violent, just like any other football game would be,” Neal said. “I’m excited for that.”

Especially because he is starting to feel more like himself of late. And, thanks to the jersey swap, feel more comfortable.

“I definitely know I belong and I can play at this level,” he said. “Camp has been getting me better. I feel like I have been getting other guys better as well. It’s exciting to go out there and continue to compete, get better with my teammates and, hopefully, win some ball games.”

More Giants