If you took one look at linebacker Lorenzo Carter during the Giants' offseason program, it was easy to tell how much he'd bulked up since last season ended.
"About 10-12 pounds," Carter said. "I'm just trying to get stronger. It's a league full of big guys, and I have to get bigger if I want to stay in it."
Throughout his rookie year, Carter flashed the athleticism that should keep him in the league for quite some time. The 2018 third-round pick out of Georgia finished his first season with 43 total tackles, four sacks, seven tackles for a loss, 10 QB hits and four passes defensed. He had a career-high seven tackles in a Week 10 win at San Francisco.
"It wasn't really a surprise to me just because I know the work I've put in and I know the type of player I am," Carter said at the end of last season. "It was a good feeling to know that I could come in and have that impact right away rather than later down the line or next year having to wait. I could come in as a rookie and still contribute to our team."
The Giants finished with just 30 sacks last season, tying them with the New England Patriots for 30th in the league. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher will certainly look to Carter to help that ranking go up in 2019, believing he has what it takes to become a consistent threat to opposing quarterbacks.
"He is rushing with a plan this year," Bettcher said during OTAs. "When you see him rush, a year ago he was trying to get off the ball as quick as he could and use his hands when he could. Now, you see a guy that is aware of how he wants to rush, aware of techniques that he wants to rush with. Guys that get in there as pass rushers, I have been in there and have coached them before personally, you see their best growth in the two and three years. You start to figure out what they are as rushers…He is really starting to figure that out. He is building his pass rush toolbox right now."
Carter started one game last season and missed another with a hip injury. He averaged just under 30 defensive snaps a game, but hopes to see more time on the field in Year 2.
"I want to play faster this year," Carter said. "I want to help take this defense to the next level. Even getting a hand on the ball at the line of scrimmage is huge. There's a chance for overthrows or a chance for interceptions. Those are just momentum-swinging plays that we would love to have on defense."
Carter's development is just one storyline to watch on defense this season. It's the second year in Bettcher's system, and there's been an influx of draft picks and free-agent signings that have everyone inside and outside the building excited about the defense's potential for 2019. In Bettcher's first season, the Giants improved from 31st to 24th in yards allowed, and went from tied for 27th to 23rd in scoring. Carter says every player on defense wants to kick it up a notch, and then some, as this season approaches.
"There's a lot of guys who understand the defense and understand what coach Bettcher wants from us," Carter said. "We're just trying to take it to the next level. Not only understanding your position but what about somebody else and what's going on the back end and the front side. Everybody is trying to take that next step."