In one breath, Patrick Graham described his personality as all “doom and gloom.”
In the next, the Giants’ defensive coordinator joked that Lorenzo Carter’s long road to recovery after a ruptured Achilles tendon might make him choke back tears.
“I’m not going to get emotional or anything,” Graham said, “but I’m very proud of his progress, to be honest with you.”
Wait a second. That doesn’t sound very dark. Why so sunny about Carter?
“You see a guy who [carries] the stress of ‘potential-this, potential-that’ all the time,” Graham said. “He’s having a good season last year and then he gets hurt. He works his way through and, to me, he looks like a different football player than anything I saw in his previous three years.
“As a teacher, that’s what we do. I get it’s a business, but it’s just like a teacher getting somebody to understand math or calculus the first time. You’re happy for that.”
Graham is animated — loud with colorful language — on the field, which admittedly makes him sound “hard and miserable.” But players like and respect him for three reasons: One, his smart schemes put them in position to succeed. Two, they believe he has their best interest at heart. Three, he fosters a “we’re all in this together” rallying cry.
“Coach Graham has done a great job just trusting the players,” Carter said. “He doesn’t try to play the game himself. He knows that the players are going to do what we have to do to win games, and he puts us in the position. He teaches us more than just the X’s and O’s. He teaches us the whole game.”
Carter was second on the Giants with nine quarterback pressures (one sack) when he ruptured his Achilles on a non-contact injury in the fifth game last season. He was eased into camp, but hit his stride in joint practices against the Browns and had a sack in the final preseason game.
“It was a long road, but of course there were days where I was down,” Carter said. “Coming off of injuries … 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 bet yes and preserved his starting job in the offseason. But there’s an outsider’s now-or-never sense to his career as he enters the walk-year on his contract.
“There was no, ‘I can have a year to come out here and be easy,’” Carter said. “Whether it’s a contract year, whether it’s rookie year, we don’t have that time. We don’t have that ease. It’s a business, so if I come out here and think I have a year [to recover], then you see what happens.”
Other than defensive tackle Leonard Williams, the Giants don’t have a player with more than five sacks in any season. If Carter, whose career high is 4.5, can be that edge-rushing complement, it will make life easier on Graham and Williams.
“If ’Zo has more sacks than me or I’m up one more sack than him,” Williams said, “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.”
Because he looks the part of an athletic freak, Carter enters every season with expectations bigger than his résumé warrants. He is used to it.
“It’s all about managing expectations,” Carter said. “Everybody and their mama are going to have expectations and say what they think you should be doing. As long as you trust the coaches, put in that work every day, then it will line up in itself.”
Indeed it’s not just the Giants’ front office which is heavily invested in Carter, one of just three remaining draft picks from general manager Dave Gettleman’s first class of six in 2018. It’s also the staff, including outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer, who developed Carter from a five-star recruit at Georgia.
“[The injury] sort of gave him a new perspective,” Sherrer said. “You can see him growing into a man now and there’s a more mature way he handles things. I’m excited to see what’s actually ahead for him.”
So is Mr. Not So Doom and Gloom.
“I’m happy for them,” Graham said of his players. “I didn’t say for myself.”