Top NFL Draft prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux steals moves and uses chess strategies to hone his skills

INDIANAPOLIS — Study, flight and strategy.

This is how Kayvon Thibodeaux approaches rushing the ferryman. It worked pretty well for him in Oregon, so there’s no reason for him to quit now. He’s going to continue to relentlessly watch the movies of some of the NFL’s top pass rushers and copy what he sees so he can add it to his game.

And he’s also not shy about making sure everyone knows it.

“I kind of rob everybody,” Thibodeaux said Friday at the NFL scouting meeting. “I’m a student of the game, so I don’t really have a favorite [pass rusher in the NFL now]but I just like stealing…a little bit everyone and implementing that into my game and starting to grow.”

It started with him watching clips on the internet of players like Willie McGinest when Thibodeaux was at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, California. During his three seasons at Oregon, he watched even more – from players like Maxx Crosby, TJWattFromMarcus Ware, chandler jones and Von Miller.

When he saw a move he liked or wanted to use, he worked on it the next practice — especially if it came from Miller, who the 6-foot-5, 258-pound Thibodeaux idolizes.

“If I don’t do a move, I’m going to learn how to work that move and I’m going to learn how to improve,” Thibodeaux said. “I’m going to implement it in practice and then I’m going to translate it into the game.

“…I’m a guy who can pull it off film and I can take it straight out into the field, so I’ve been able to do that a lot. Literally, on most [Miller’s] rush pass, I went from film to field and it helped me a lot.”

Thibodeaux said he studied Miller’s footwork and body lean and said it helped him be a much better standing rusher for the Ducks last season, when he had seven sacks and 12 tackles for the loss to go along with a career-high 49 tackles.

Thibodeaux, who said he was just a speed rusher in his freshman year at Oregon, said one of the things he learned from studying others was the importance of being strategic. He loves to play chess, and he compared the game to the rush of the passer because you have to think two or three moves ahead.

“I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the strongest guy and I’m not the fastest guy,” Thibodeaux said, “…Just like Von Miller, you have to understand what going to give you that edge, and to me, my mind is what gives me that edge. I’m a chess player, so the thinking goes forward. How do I define the game and dictate what the chess player does? offensive tackle so I can get what I want out of the game situation?

“…I mean, you know, chess is life and chess is football. You’re talking about making your first move, and your first move is going to prepare your second move, isn’t Then you have to think about your third move in front, so when you say pass rush I’m gonna hit you with speed first I always hit you with speed, speed, speed speed. And then that’s going to set up my power moves, and then my power moves are going to set up my meter.”

After being named USA Today High School Football’s 2018 Defensive Player of the Year, Thibodeaux became the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. He won the Morris Trophy — awarded to the conference’s top offensive and defensive lineman selected by players — as a sophomore, and he was a unanimous All-American last season. He had 19 sacks and 35.5 tackles for a loss in 30 games at Oregon.

And now he is a candidate to be the first overall selection in the NFL Draft next month.

“I think the most important thing I want to say to teams is that I’m really a student of the game, or I really love this game,” Thibodeaux said. “It did a lot for me. Football taught me a lot. It helped me grow a lot throughout my life. It will be there until the day I die. … No matter what I do anything else off the pitch, football is my main focus.

“Winning a Super Bowl, getting a yellow jacket, being defensive rookie of the year is on my to-do list.”

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