Kayvon Thibodeaux already learning from fellow edge rusher Brian Burns

New York Giants edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux had 11.5 sacks last season, up from four in his 2022 rookie campaign. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's not hard to find Kayvon Thibodeaux these days. Look for the New York Giants' biggest offseason acquisition, fellow edge rusher Brian Burns, and Thibodeaux is likely to be nearby.

Whether it's in the back right of the warmup line doing stretches, during or between drills at OTAs this spring, or even in their down time away from the team's facility, they're usually together.

"Me and Thibodaux have been hanging out a lot," Burns said at the Dexter Lawrence celebrity softball game earlier this month. "Trying to build that chemistry, build that bond."

It's not hard to see that budding relationship in the works. As Burns warmed up at the softball game and practiced his swing, Thibodeaux was observing from several feet behind.

It's similar to how it has been working on the football field. And who better to learn from than a two-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher?

"We're chasing greatness every day," said Thibodeaux, who finished his second season with 11.5 sacks. "He knows a lot of things. He been in the league a lot longer than I have. He got a lot of game, a lot of gems that's going to help my game. Continue to get with him on and off the field and continue to grow."

The Giants have put a lot of resources into this pass-rushing duo. So much so that their success or failure is likely going to determine the long-term fate of a lot of people at 1925 Giants Drive. The hope is that together, combined with Lawrence in the middle of the defensive line, this becomes the strength of the team.

General manager Joe Schoen acquired Burns from the Carolina Panthers this offseason and handed him a massive $141 million deal. It cost the Giants second- and fifth-round picks, in addition to a pick swap.

There are also high hopes for Thibodeaux. He was Schoen's first draft pick, fifth overall in the 2022 NFL draft. Thibodeaux has been productive his first two seasons in New York, but not always dominant. His 14% pass rush win rate was 32nd among edge rushers last year. There have been games where he has looked like Lawrence Taylor and others where he's been invisible.

"Consistency," new outside linebackers coach Charlie Bullen said of where he believes Thibodeaux can improve. "Learning how to be a pro and understanding all that goes with it and what the program entails and how to be a great pass-rusher, that is first and foremost. And I think having someone like Burns in the room working alongside him will help him, be an example that shows him where those next steps can come and how he can become consistent."

Burns compared it to when Haason Reddick joined the Panthers as he was set to enter his third year. Burns was already a productive player, but adding Reddick on the other side benefited him on and off the field.

The two combined for 20 sacks in their only season together.

"That's when I developed that competitive nature with the other end on the other side. I was able to learn a lot from him," Burns said. "It's a similar situation going into my sixth year, [Thibodeaux] going into his third year. That's the same as me and Hasson. That definitely did wonders for my career."

The following year, after Reddick left to join the Philadelphia Eagles, Burns had a career-best 12.5 sacks, even if his pass rush win rate dipped from 20.3% to 16.9%. He was a better finisher and player because of what he called the "small things." He understood how to play better, his moves were more refined, football IQ improved.

This is what Burns believes he can pass along to the next generation.

Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari had veteran Jihad Ward the past two years. Ward, now with the Minnesota Vikings, is entering his 10th professional season. But he was never the type of high-end pass-rusher the Giants envisioned Thibodeaux becoming when they selected him in the 2022 NFL draft.

Ward had a career-high 5.0 sacks last season but had the lowest pass rush win rate of any qualifier at 1.1%.

Burns brings pedigree and experience, and he's already made a strong first impression. He was perhaps the best player on the field, constantly in the backfield, during last Thursday's OTA.

But that's not what has stood out to the Giants' brass.

"First, I would say he's a great teammate, practices the way you want a pro to practice. Particularly, a player of his type caliber," coach Brian Daboll said. "I think he's done a good job with the outside linebackers and his room of being a good mentor. He leads by example, but he also will speak up if he needs to speak up.

"He's been a really good addition to our football team up to this point. Glad we have him. Whether it's on defense, whether it's talking to guys on offense, the offensive line about certain things, good person and a good player."

Thibodeaux actually faced more double teams (44) last season than Burns (42). That number is likely to decrease greatly with Lawrence and Burns drawing so much attention.

Thibodeaux now has talent surrounding him on the field and a mentor to finetune things off it. It has to work, Schoen and the Giants are banking on it.