August 10, 2022

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Jets’ Carl Lawson is unstoppable at training camp

3 min read
Jets' Carl Lawson is unstoppable at training camp

The Jets soon might have to amend practice rules to give the offense a 12th player strictly in charge of double-teaming Carl Lawson.

Or maybe make Lawson count five Mississippis before he can rush the passer. Or tie one hand behind his back. Anything creative to level the playing field for the starting offense. 

If there is a Jets record for “sacks” in training-camp practices, Lawson is threatening to break it after he had three more on Tuesday in 11-on-11 periods to up his total to six in two practices this week. These are in addition to others scattered through the first two weeks of camp.

“If you watch the [game] tape, he beats everybody, so it’s not foreign to him to win,” head coach Robert Saleh said. “What’s cool though is his work ethic and the way he goes about his day-to-day process: He is relentless with his body. There’s an old saying that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, but this dude, not only is he talented but he works his absolute butt off. And because of it, you see results.”

Carl Lawson
Carl Lawson had six “sacks” over the past two days.
Getty Imagws

The Jets have tried – and failed – to plug holes through free agency in recent years, from cornerback Trumaine Johnson to running back Le’Veon Bell to center Ryan Kalil. The franchise has been in a search of a great pass-rusher even longer, since trading John Abraham to the Falcons in 2006.

Viewed through those prisms, there is reason to be skeptical of Lawson’s three-year, $45 million contract. But remove him from the shadow of other busts and there only is room for excitement that the Jets might have found the defensive equivalent of a franchise quarterback. 

“It’s historically hard [to find] in general,” Saleh said. “I always argue that for every quarterback you need two great edge-rushers. They are hard to come by. There are good edge-rushers around the league – don’t get me wrong – and there are a lot of good quarterbacks around the league, but those ones that transcend the game are rare through the history of time. To be able to get one in this building like Carl, it’s awesome.”

Here’s a small splash of cold water: Lawson has yet to make a Pro Bowl and has 20 sacks in 51 games over four seasons.

The Bengals showed interest in re-signing Lawson but ultimately paid ex-Saints’ pass-rusher Trey Hendrickson the same $15 million-per-year average (four years total) in free agency, which begs the question: What was their hesitation to go all-in on Lawson?  

“You don’t just pass out dollars to someone because they make plays,” Saleh said. “There has to be a marriage in terms of philosophy. Every phone call we made, he exemplifies what [character] we covet in a player, so it’s very easy to hand out big checks to people who represent themselves like he does.”

Because there is no tackling the quarterback in practice, “sacks” are plays whistled dead by officials or when a defender taps the quarterback in a collapsing pocket. Lawson’s combination of brute strength, long arms and speed is creating fits for left tackle Mekhi Becton

“Carl is one of the better pass-rushers in the NFL and he’s been that for years,” right tackle George Fant said. “I think this situation is great for our offensive line to go against this guy. It’s harder to block in practice than in a game because they start to understand tendencies, so it gets you prepared.”

Lawson was second in the NFL last season in quarterback hits (32), though most didn’t translate to finishing the play like T.J. Watt’s 41 hits, which became 15 sacks for the Steelers. It’s a similar narrative that surrounded Jets draft pick Leonard Williams, who was always buzzing the quarterback but didn’t break through until 11.5 sacks with the Giants in the sixth year of his career. 

“I get sacks are what we all gear into,” Saleh said, “but when you are disrupting the quarterback, you are disrupting the game.”