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Giants LB Lorenzo Carter enters second season with lofty expectations

Giants linebacker Lorenzo Carter warms up during training

Giants linebacker Lorenzo Carter warms up during training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center on Saturday, July 27, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Lorenzo Carter stood in the Giants’ field house with a stack of cookies in his hand. Someone tried to be helpful and asked if they could hold the snacks for him while he conducted some business. Carter was having none of that. He held tight to his chocolate chip treats.

Those, after all, have been part of his training regimen. And judging by the first few days of training camp, they’re doing the trick.

Carter enters his second NFL season with big expectations, big shoes to fill, and, well, just plain bigger. He added about 10 pounds to his frame this offseason, checking in this week at 256 pounds (he was 244 at the end of his rookie season). The key to his success?

“Just eating,” he said. “The more weight the better.”

It could help him have a monster season.

A cookie monster season, if you will.

The Giants certainly need that from him. After a promising first season, they promoted him to their starting outside linebacker. He replaces Olivier Vernon, who was traded to the Browns in the offseason after having led the Giants in sacks for two of the past three years. They’re counting on a lot of young players to step up into important spots in the defense this season, but maybe none more than Carter.

“We’ve seen guys in their second year really make a jump,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He played a lot of really good football last year as a rookie. When I look at him, just looking at him physically, he came back and looks like a more mature body type in his second year. He’s going to be a really fine player. We’re hopeful he can create pressure.”

Those are futuristic words that have floated around Carter for most of his playing career, even in college. Hopeful. Potential. Promise. This season, Carter said he is focused on fulfilling all of it.

If he can, he could become the next homegrown edge rusher in a long chain of them for the Giants that goes all the way back to Lawrence Taylor, through Michael Strahan, to Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul, and is awaiting its next link.

“He’s just more comfortable, being in the league and being in this defense,” defensive captain and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree said of Carter. “Your rookie year, everything is flying all around you. You don’t really know much of what’s going on. You’re just trying to make sure you don’t mess up and not really play. But this year, he understands what Coach (James Bettcher, the defensive coordinator) is asking for him to do and what we expect from him. He’s taken all of the right steps to be a great pass rusher for us, and also play the run game for us, too.”

That’s an important second part, and Carter has already flashed some ability in his all-around play this summer. In his first few practices he has already recorded a few pressures on the quarterbacks, batted down a pass, thwarted an end-around run to his side, and made a dazzling diving interception on a screen pass intended for none other than Saquon Barkley.

He certainly did not look heavy or bulky or slowed by his new weight on that one.

“That was a heck of a play,” Barkley said. “It was a zero blitz, he was responsible for the running back and I kind of tried to sneak him and dip outside him on the screen. He did a great job of playing it and then made an unbelievable play…. I’m really happy for that guy, you can see the work he put in. I think he is going to have a tremendous impact for us this year.”

That interception also got Shurmur excited.

“As an offensive coach, you don’t want those kinds of things to happen,” Shurmur admitted. “But when a guy makes a great individual effort like that, that was awesome. Hopefully we’ll see more of that.”

Carter downplayed that pick (“Eh,” he said, “I could have caught it cleaner”) but recognized how important it was for the defense as a whole. After his catch, the entire unit swarmed him and they jumped up and down in celebration.

“That’s our defensive group, a bunch of guys who are excited for everybody, everybody making plays, and we’re excited for each other,” Carter said.

The real measure of Carter’s impact, though, will come in how he pressures the quarterback. And it will be measured in one statistic: Sacks.

The Giants have not had a player with double-digit sacks since 2014 when Pierre-Paul had 12.5. It’s the longest such dryspell for the organization since sacks became an official stat in 1982. For a franchise that has long used that as a barometer for success and been identified for its edge rushers throughout the years, it seems imperative to end that streak.

Carter could be the man to do it.

“We certainly hope so,” Shurmur said of Carter being a double-digit sack player.

Carter is eager to try.

“Hopefully,” he said of the prospect. “We’ll see. Get the season going, get some plays rolling, and play ball and win games. I’m more worried about winning games than getting double-digit sacks. I want double-digit wins.”

This year, the two may go hand-in-hand.

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