Can Lorenzo Carter be what the Giants need him to be this season?
Patrick Graham isn’t a gusher.
"That’s just my personality," the Giants’ defensive coordinator said. "I'm just hard and miserable all the time. Doom and gloom."
There is one player who manages to lift that dour persona, however. Graham was asked this week about Lorenzo Carter, the linebacker’s comeback from a ruptured Achilles last season and the important responsibilities he figures to carry into this upcoming season.
That’s when the gray skies parted and Graham began beaming like the sun. He nearly choked up.
"I'm not going to get emotional or anything, but I'm very proud of his progress, to be honest with you," Graham said. "Very proud of his progress. I think he looks like a different football player on the field."
Different is expected for a player returning from such a serious injury. Different for the better? That’s a rarity. And it may be one that Carter is about to show.
"It’s all just about moving forward and getting better every day," Carter said. "That was the main focus in rehab and that’s been the same focus I’ve had coming out here to practice . . . You have to get over that hump in your head where it’s like, ‘Can I do this? Can I trust myself to come out here and be the same type of player?’ "
The Giants need that from him. Carter has never quite been able to live up to his billing with the Giants — Graham described most of his career as "potential this, potential that, all the time" — but they are counting on him to be their defensive difference-maker up front in 2021. The team had hardly any sack production from its outside linebackers last year, and Carter is the most likely candidate to change that.
Last year, defensive lineman Leonard Williams led the team in sacks with 11.5. No one else on the roster had more than four. Williams said he wouldn’t mind some competition in that area from teammates.
"I think that’s just going to make us be better as an overall defense, as individuals, and as a team," Williams said. "If Zo has more sacks than me or I’m up one more sack than him, then I’m going to play harder and he’s going to play harder because he doesn’t want me to catch up to him and vice versa. I think that’ll just continue to push the team."
That won’t be an individual effort. The Giants rely much more on scheming their sacks than on dominating players.
"Look, when Lawrence Taylor walks back in here, we won’t worry about scheming anything, we’ll just go ahead and let him rush off the edge," coach Joe Judge said. "But right now, we’re relying on all 11 to do their jobs . . . We just want to make sure we put our players in the position to play to their strengths."
Carter is not Lawrence Taylor. But if he does finally emerge as the player the Giants selected in the third round of the 2018 draft, they will be happy. And Graham? He’ll be ecstatic.
"I get that it's a business," Graham said, "but just like a teacher getting somebody to understand math or calculus the first time, or algebra or go back to just basic arithmetic, you're happy for that. That’s why I do this. I don't know where else I would get fulfillment like I do with this coaching thing, to be able to watch these young men fulfill a childhood dream. I might be being a little dramatic right now, but that's how I am."
That sounds pretty far from doom and gloom.
"I know," Graham said. "I'm happy for them. I didn't say for myself."
Notes & quotes: The Giants added TE Ryan Izzo to their practice squad, terminating the contract of WR Damion Willis to make room on the 16-man group. Izzo was released earlier this week by Houston, which had acquired him in a trade with New England on March 18. He spent his first two NFL years in New England with Judge.