DENVER — Running back Michael Carter heard what his coach said about him, the glowing praise he offered after the rookie’s impressive performance last Sunday. Robert Saleh called it "electric." Carter wasn’t as lit up over it.
Carter racked up a team-high 88 yards on 13 touches against New England, but he wasn’t close to being satisfied. He has high expectations and he challenged himself to be better.
"I think there’s more," he said. "I left a lot out there. I think that the difference between good and great is so small. And I think it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t do it again."
His chance comes Sunday against the Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. After last week, the fourth-round pick from North Carolina should be featured more in the Jets’ backfield by committee.
Carter ran 11 times for 59 yards and caught two passes for 29 more. He showed plenty of burst, bouncing outside for some big gains. Five touches resulted in first downs. He also showed the ability to shed and evade tacklers. He totaled 28 yards after contact.
"Somehow, some way, guys just fall off him," Saleh said.
"In our practices," offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said, "when you think it’s blocked for 2 [yards], he finds ways to get it to 5."
That is nothing new for Carter. The 5-8, 200-pounder said he’s always been good at bouncing off tacklers and not being brought down on first contact.
It was a source of pride when he was younger. But getting tackled on the first hit also led to some teasing in a Carter household that was filled with running backs. Carter’s father and two brothers also played the position.
"When I was young, it was always watching the greats, and they never got tackled by the first," Carter said. "So that’s kind of been the standard for my house growing up. I grew up with a whole bunch of running backs. You used to get made fun of if you were [tackled] by the first person."
Carter studied Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Jamaal Charles and LaDainian Tomlinson. Now that he’s in the NFL, he watches and studies some of the best backs currently playing and sees what he can take and use.
"I watch them all the time, some of the best running backs in the league right now," Carter said. "That’s the pinnacle I’m working toward every day. When you watch film, you always know that you can get better. If [Christian] McCaffrey tries something in the game that works, I might try it the next day. It’s just trying to improve every day."
Carter credits his father and former coach, Tony, for instilling this in him and his brothers, Dwayne and Joshua. Tony played at South Carolina State and Dwayne at Harding University in Arkansas. Joshua is a junior at South Alabama.
Joshua is more accomplished as a defensive player. Michael played some defense in high school, but that ended when while playing safety in his team’s prevent defense, he was beaten deep. His coach told him he’d never go out there again.
"I was like, ‘Coach, I got 260 [yards] at halftime,’ " Carter said. "I do my part on offense."
No one could argue.
Carter ran for 2,536 yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior at Navarre High School in Florida. He continued to produce at North Carolina, finishing his four-year career with 4,060 rushing and receiving yards and 28 touchdowns.
During his junior and senior years, Carter shared the backfield with Javonte Williams and still ran for at least 1,000 yards each season. Williams was a second-round pick of the Broncos. The two remain close. They speak multiple times a week and look forward to catching up in Denver.
"I love him so much. That’s my dog," Carter said. "The competition made us closer. To be honest, it was overall, we know that we can both be great."
Carter joined a similar situation with the Jets. LaFleur uses a multi-player backfield attack.
Tevin Coleman started Week 1 and led the Jets in touches on a day when they rushed for 45 total yards. Ty Johnson started last week on a good day for all three backs. The Jets ran for 152 yards.
It could be Carter’s turn to start Sunday. Regardless, he will be heavily involved, especially with Coleman out with a non-COVID illness. But Carter earned the chance to prove he’s no one-game wonder.
"He’s such a mature kid," LaFleur said. "It was really nice to see a rookie in his second game to just transition to the speed of the game as well as I thought he did.
"He just finds those lanes and he has great vision. I think part of it is — it’s kind of cheesy — but the kid has just an unbelievable attitude. When you literally, absolutely love what you do and you come out with a great attitude every single day, a lot of times good stuff is going to happen to you if you are talented in this league. I think he has that combination of everything."