Andrew Thomas was as well-prepared as any rookie could be. He had spent the past two years as Georgia’s starting left tackle, tangling with future first-round picks from Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Notre Dame.
But there was no way to simulate who would line up across from him in the first two games of his NFL career.
Following a debut matchup with acclaimed Steelers pass-rushers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt — who combined for 26 sacks last season — the 21-year-old Giants rookie spent last week battling with the Bears’ Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, who have been selected to a combined seven Pro Bowls.
The power and speed of the pro game didn’t surprise him as much as the precision.
“It’s how refined they are in their moves. They understand what they’re doing,” Thomas said after Friday’s practice. “In the NFL, they take advantage of everything you do that might not be correct.
“It was a great start going against some guys like that. Some of those guys are the cream of the crop in the NFL, so it’s a good start for me.”
Thomas, the fourth-overall pick this spring, was the Giants’ highest-graded offensive lineman in Week 1 — according to Pro Football Focus — but the left tackle has graded lower than each of the next three offensive lineman taken after him in the draft through two games. Thomas’s 56.0 grade trails the Jets’ Mekhi Becton (79.7), Tampa Bay’s Tristan Wirfs (76.4) and Cleveland’s Jedrick Wills Jr. (66.4), but none has played against the same level of competition as the Giants’ foundational piece.
Thomas was scheduled to face another elite defensive front on Sunday, but the 49ers will be without 2019 Pro Bowl defensive end Nick Bosa, former third-overall pick Solomon Thomas and 2018 Pro Bowl defensive end Dee Ford, due to injuries.
Opening his career against some of the league’s best could produce Thomas’ best performance yet.
“The athleticism always stands out with him … but how mentally tough he is, this guy’s had some really elite pass rushers over him the past couple of weeks,” head coach Joe Judge said. “I think the way his career started already with who he’s faced, he understands there’s no easy days in the National Football League. So his approach on a daily basis is to improve and learn from previous mistakes and to compete throughout.
“This guy never looks fazed in anything he does. … He’s very focused and locked in and I think it translates over to how he plays in the game. … The matchups he’s had and how he’s handled it, not everything’s been perfect but this guy is learning and he’s competing and he’s progressing. This guy has the ability to be a really good player in this league for some time.”
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