Life and circumstances have made rookies Andrew Thomas and Chase Young natural rivals, even before facing each other — something they’ll finally do Sunday afternoon, when the Giants host Washington.
They were on the same high school All-Star team at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Last year, Washington and the Giants essentially played for their 2020 first-round draft order slots in Week 16. Washington lost the game but secured the second pick, with which the team chose defensive end Young. The Giants took offensive lineman Thomas fourth. The players have gone different ways since; while Young (2.5 sacks, eight solo tackles in four games) has flourished this season, Thomas has stuttered, having allowed four sacks and 28 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
It’s an undoubtedly compelling narrative and one that could swallow a player whole. Which is probably why Thomas is refusing to play into the storyline.
"I don’t pay attention to other guys [when I’m trying to] measure myself," he said Friday after a rainy practice. "I’m focusing on myself, understanding my technique and the things I need to get better at . . . [I need to] make sure that my technique is correct because, regardless of what they do, if I’m not doing my technique correct, then I’m not going to be successful."
Make no mistake, Thomas knows he has to get better — especially since his matchups these past five weeks have been less than favorable. He faced one of the best fronts in the league in his first ever NFL game, a loss to the Steelers. He got Marcus Lawrence and the Cowboys last week and, of course, he’ll go up against Young this weekend. Consistency, especially when facing elite competition, is key, Thomas said, adding he also needed to get better at protecting secondary rushes.
"At Georgia, if you don’t take a good set, sometimes you can get away with it with athleticism and strength," Thomas said. "At this level, if you don’t take a great set, they’re going to take advantage of it."
Thomas said his confidence hasn’t been rattled by his play the first five weeks and took an optimistic approach to his unwelcoming indoctrination to the NFL. "I think it will help build my confidence because I’ve seen the best," he said. "I’ve seen what the greatest look like, so I can continue to get better each and every week."
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett also preached mental resilience this week, especially when it came to his young lineman.
"The biggest challenge that he’ll have and that all offensive tackles in this league have, is you’re not always going to win," Garrett said. "They have to keep battling, keep learning from their experiences. Be mentally tough, be physically tough. Technically, become better and you’ll grow and improve as a player over time. There’s no question it’s one of the most challenging positions in football. To block these elite rushers every week … Andrew has done a nice job so far. He’s going to get better and better as we go."
And then there’s the Young factor. Thomas, by all appearances, was treating this coming Sunday just like any other game. But offensive line coach Marc Columbo said that far from ignoring the natural rivalry, it could work in Thomas’ favor.
"I’m sure Andrew’s gonna be fired up for it," he said. "I’m sure they’ll both be fired up for it. I don’t think I’m gonna have to push him extra this week. But he’ll be ready for the challenge and it will be a good challenge — it’s a good pass rusher, a really good pass rusher. It’ll be exciting to see that matchup. I’m looking forward to it."