EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – James Bettcher didn't hesitate when asked the difference between the Lorenzo Carter he has seen in the Giants' training camp and the Carter who played 15 games as a rookie last season.
"Much more confident," said Bettcher, the Giants' second-year defensive coordinator. "He knows what he's doing, and now he's really trying to learn why he's doing it. He's also trying to learn, based on some of the looks that he gets, when he can cut it loose as a rusher, and when it's maybe going to be more run game. I see a guy that is a lot more confident and playing a lot faster now."
Carter 2.0 could be one of the undervalued keys to the Giants' season. The team is admittedly looking to upgrade its pass rush after finishing with 30 sacks last season, tying them for the NFL's second-lowest total – with the Super Bowl champion Patriots. Olivier Vernon, who led the team with 7.0 sacks, was traded to Cleveland in March.
The Giants have intriguing pass rush prospects, including veteran outside linebacker Markus Golden (12.5 sacks with Arizona in 2016) and third-round draft choice Oshane Ximines (school-record 33.0 sacks at Old Dominion). But the most exciting candidate might be Carter, a third-round selection last year out of Georgia.
Carter, 6-5 and 252 pounds, was third on the team with 4.0 sacks in his debut season. He admits what he did accomplish was largely due to his physical skills. Now he is more knowledgeable about the game and has a variety of pass rush moves and plans.
"I think if you really watch his rushes in succession, that's where it really sticks out to you," said Mike Dawson, who is in his first season as the team's outside linebackers coach. "You can see him come with a bunch of different tools, but there's a reason for each one - what happened on the previous rush, or what's going to happen on the next rush. All those things tie in together, and he's doing a great job of learning that part of it. He's really making a great effort and coming a long way, and learning the scheme, how I fit in the run game, where is my piece of the puzzle, and then I think that translates over to the pass rush as well."
Carter is quick to credit Dawson for improving his game.
"I think coach Dawson does a great job just talking to us, talking a lot of football," Carter said. "What it came down to is basically if you don't have a plan, you won't really be effective as a pass rusher. So we just watch a lot of film, watch a lot of different guys and just see that they all pretty much have the same plan, have a set mindset when they come to the game that they're going to do this, or do that. I figure why not emulate what works?"
Carter has learned that if the end of the play is to succeed, he must take the proper steps – literally – at the snap.
"I was talking to my teammates today, and I was just telling them those first two steps are the most important," Carter said. "If you have a bad first two steps, then you can't really rebound, but if your first two steps are great, then you put the offensive lineman at a disadvantage. So, that's what we want to do every time."
Carter has also expanded his repertoire and his strategy on his way to the quarterback.
"You don't want to put yourself in a box," he said. "So, I'll do one move and know that if they give me something else, then I'll counter it, but if they give me the same thing, I'll keep doing the same move all day if it works.
"I'd say I've refined my moves. Just being able to know when to throw the moves, when to just go straight speed, or when to counter. I think that was one of the key emphases for me this offseason."
Carter worked throughout the offseason and in training camp so he would warrant increased playing time and make a bigger impact when he is in the game. He will get to test himself in game conditions for the first time on Thursday, when the Giants open their preseason schedule vs. the Jets.
"I'm excited," he said. "I'm excited for the guys in the locker room, for everybody really to go out there and show what we're working with. I think we have a lot of guys, high-character guys that can help us win games, and that also have the skillset to help us win games. So, I'm excited to get out there and see what everybody can do when we go against somebody else."
*Head coach Pat Shurmur said backup tackle Brian Mihalik left practice with a burner. Another tackle, Chad Wheeler did not practice, along with cornerback Sam Beal and linebacker Avery Moss.
*Cornerback Grant Haley, who hurt his shoulder last week, returned to the field and joined wide receiver Sterling Shepard (broken thumb) in wearing a yellow pinny. Those players are supposed to avoid contact, but Shepard caught a couple of passes and was hit in team drills, though not particularly hard.
"There are times where people don't do it exactly the way we want it," Shurmur said. "So, then you correct them. The fact that he's wearing a yellow jersey, you should be alerted to the fact that you don't touch him. To this point, there have been a couple of times that he got touched. He's fine."
Is there an upside to throwing to Shepard if he's not supposed to catch the ball?
"Yeah, the one-handed catches," Shurmur said. "There is an upside. He's out there running routes. I think because of what it takes to play receiver, he's able to do those things. Anytime we're practicing, we have to be smart. That's the fine line between trying to get your work and being smart so that we can all make it to game day. I can understand the questions there. We just try to continue to be smart with everything we do."
*Shurmur said wide receiver Golden Tate will travel into Manhattan "at some point during the day" tomorrow for the appeal of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs.
"It'll be after practice," Shurmur said. "He may have to leave practice a little early, but it's kind of an important thing that he needs to go do."
*Second-year defensive tackle B.J. Hill was excused from practice after his fiancé gave birth yesterday to a baby boy.
*Safety Michael Thomas and long snapper Zak DeOssie were excused to tend to players association business.
*The Giants today exchanged offensive linemen on their roster, signing Malcolm Bunche and waiving Austin Droogsma.
Bunche, 6-6 and 320 pounds, was with the Giants in training camp last year. He was released in the final cutdown on Sept. 1. Bunche, who was previously with Philadelphia and Jacksonville, has never played in a regular-season game. He played as a graduate transfer for UCLA in 2014, when he started nine games (six at left tackle, three at guard) on the offensive line and contributed on special teams. Before UCLA, Bunche played at the University of Miami, where in three years he played in 31 games with 14 starts.
Droogsma was trying to earn a roster spot after not playing football at Florida State, where he was a member of the track & field team. He had last played football in 2012 at Gulf Breeze (Fla.) High School.
Big Blue returned to action on Monday. Check out the top photos from practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center