Lorenzo Carter of the Giants during the third quarter of a preseason...

Lorenzo Carter of the Giants during the third quarter of a preseason game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 14, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Dustin Satloff

The first thing Lorenzo Carter did was turn around.

"I got to the top of a rush and pulled off and it felt like somebody kicked me," the Giants linebacker said. "I was like ‘Dang!’ It felt like my foot was asleep. I thought I got hit or something. I thought somebody stepped on me and I looked back.

"But there was nobody there."

That was Carter’s first hint that he’d suffered a major injury. He was still standing, though, and teammates told him to lay down. Then the medical staff rushed out to see him. Then the cart came out to get him. Then teammates started patting him on the shoulder pads and shaking his hand as he was wheeled away. And in a matter of minutes Carter went from denial that he was even hurt, literally looking to see who had given him that whack to the back of his leg, to being told that his season was over with a torn Achilles tendon.

"I had never been injured so I wasn’t thinking it was anything for real, wasn’t thinking it was a serious injury," he said. "But it is what it is."

That injury happened a year ago on Monday during the Giants’ game against Dallas at AT&T Stadium. It was a game remembered for another nasty injury; that same cart that hauled Carter off the field was later used to clear Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and his dangling foot from the turf after he suffered a gruesome fracture. But while Prescott has returned to dominate, Carter is still coming along in his recovery.

He’s started all four games for the Giants at outside linebacker and made 13 tackles, but he has yet to record a sack.

This Sunday, when he returns to AT&T Stadium almost exactly one year after the day he was carted out of it, would be a perfect time and place for that to occur.

"It’s kind of cool to have the opportunity to be back out there, return to the scene of the crime where everything happened," Carter told Newsday. "But I can’t put too much emphasis on that making it about me. It’s about the team, keeping the team first. If we do that, the plays will come."

The Giants are waiting for that to happen. Their pass rush has been virtually non-existant. Through five games they have six sacks, tied for the second-fewest in the league. They won against the Saints last Sunday without a sack or even a quarterback hit for that matter, but that is hardly the recipe they want to follow for future success.

Carter was supposed to be the player who helped provide such harassment of opposing quarterbacks this season. He had a strong training camp, pleasantly surprising the team that was ready to bring him along slowly after his surgery and rehab. So far, though, it has yet to transfer to the regular season.

"I think it’s coming in time," linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer said. "I think he is still trying to figure out who he is off of that injury. I don’t think there are any issues from it, but it still is always going to take time for sure."

That’s not to say the Giants are disappointed in him.

Sherrer, who coached Carter at the University of Georgia and has known him for nearly a decade, said the injury changed Carter… and not all for the worse.

"He has looked, I don’t want to say better, but more explosive and faster than in years before," he told Newsday. "You get to that point as a player and you get an injury and it makes you realize it may be gone. I’ve seen a new focus, a kind of professionalism that has picked up maybe. It’s not like ‘I’m still playing a kid’s sport.’ Now it’s ‘I’m playing a man’s sport and I have to take it to another level.’ I’ve seen a lot of that in terms of his preparation."

Carter certainly impressed people with the way he worked throughout his recovery. One player along for that ride with him was Saquon Barkley, who had suffered his own season-ending injury just three weeks prior to Carter’s. That left the two of them together in the training room quite a bit.

"We were always chopping it up in there," Barkley said. "Our lockers are not too far apart, and I always check with him and he checks with me and see how he’s feeling. Obviously, two different injuries, but I got to see a little bit of the work he put in… When you know someone had to go through the same thought process and the same recovery and the same rehab, just seeing those guys getting back on the field and come off the field healthy is a win for them. I’m just happy to see him keep going and as the season continues to go, keep improving and getting better."

Barkley has, of course, returned to be productive. As has Prescott.

Carter is still waiting his turn. Back in Dallas on Sunday would bring his past year full circle.

"I visualize making some plays out there," Carter said. "That’s what you have to do. Watching all this film you have to start to visualize yourself out there, and especially being back in Dallas, it’s important to visualize successful plays."

He has so many associations from Dallas with that one bad one, the one that had him turning around to see who kicked him, that he now insists only on looking ahead.

I feel like I’m playing well," he said. "Just have to keep trying to get better, keep attacking the quarterback, making him the main target every week. Try to get as many disruptive plays as we can up front. Just play football, Play sound football."

And when he finally gets that first sack since his injury, his first since Week 2 of last season?

"It’ll feel great," he said. "To go out and help the team, that’s what I really want to do. Help the team win games. That’s more than just sacks. That comes down to a whole lot of stuff. Game-winning plays, plays that affect the game. That’s all I’m trying to think about now."

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