Lorenzo Carter: The Perfect Chess Piece for James Bettcher’s Defense

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The winds of change are blowing around the blustery stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and I’m willing to bet that you won’t find many Giants fans who are upset about this transformation. The Ben McAdoo era proved to be fruitless and the Jerry Reese tenure was marred by subpar drafting in the middle rounds. Giants ownership found remedies in general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur, while bringing in defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who will change the base defense to a 3-4 front. A defense that was once highly regarded as a top 3 defense in the NFL in 2016, and fell significantly short of that in 2017; injuries and internal tension befell the unit, while the star players radiance was dimmer than the previous year.

DE Jason Pierre Paul has since been traded to the Buccaneers while OLB Devon Kennard, LB Jonathan Cassiles, LB Keenan Robinson, LB Kelvin Sheppard, CB Ross Cockrell, CB Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, and a few other minor contributors to the defense have too parted ways with the Big Blue. This leaves the defense influx with new arrivals, like DE Josh Mauro, DE/OLB Kareem Martin, and CB C.J. Goodwin, who are familiar with Bettcher’s scheme and other veteran players like CB William Gay, S Michael Thomas, CB Riley Curtis and LB Derrick Mathews. These players will compete for roles on a roster that are attainable, especially when one considers the uncertain nature that surrounds CB Eli Apple.

The Giants really addressed the defensive front in the draft by selecting BJ Hill out of North Carolina State and RJ McIntosh out of Miami. This will help mitigate fatigue and keep a solid rotation of the big men up front, but the player we are going to focus on here is the Giants’ 3rd round pick Lorenzo Carter out of Georgia.

Carter is the movable chess piece that James Bettcher was looking for and he’ll be incredibly valuable to the success of this defense. The Giants will be relying heavily on two former Bulldogs (as Carter joins Alec Ogletree) to not only use their athletic ability, but also their interchangeability and processing of the game in order to set a physical tone for a team that faces the Super Bowl champs, Ezekiel Elliott, and now Derrius Guice twice a year. This will not be an easy task for the Giants.

I wrote an article about Alec Ogletree’s fit in James Bettcher’s system and the versatility of Carter’s game will ease Ogletree’s fit; this should then help translate to success in Bettcher’s blitz heavy system. But do the Giants have enough on the backend to ensure this? That’s a question for another day, but let’s dive into some Carter tape, shall we?  

One may point to these two plays and say “look he’s unblocked, so what?” and to a certain extent they’re not wrong, but I view it a bit differently, especially when you consider who will be calling the plays for the Giants. While lining up to the field on both of these plays, Carter shows excellent explosiveness, length, and athletic ability to force an inaccurate throw and disrupt a run play. On the second play, he disguises and times the blitz up well and puts the quarterback in a disadvantageous position, which results in a poor decision. I get it, he’s not showing any play strength or stacking and shedding any big lineman here, so what’s the point? Those are his biggest concerns, right? It’s just timing a blitz up and showing explosiveness, any athlete can do that. To an extent, these critical comments aren’t fully incorrect, but I believe these negatives aren’t as debilitating as some may believe.

One of the consensus top overall players in the 2018 NFL Draft was guard Quenton Nelson out of Notre Dame, and Carter gets the best of him on the play above. Lining up to the field on the edge in a two-point stance, Carter uses his quickness to penetrate into the backfield. Simultaneously, Notre Dame is running a power concept to the field out of the shotgun. Carter uses his first step to get up-field and beat Quenton Nelson to his landmark. Carter gets low, initiates contact, and presses the inside shoulder of Nelson, which sets a firm edge and allows the alley defender to operate in a more narrow area. Carter also works back inside off of Nelson’s block to restrict the running lane, which results in just a one yard gain.

The second play shows Carter as an outside linebacker off the line of scrimmage to the boundary, and its another power concept. Carter gets low at the point of attack and initially looks to be stood up by the offensive guard, but he regains himself, sets the edge, and forces Rodney Anderson out of bounds for a minimal gain. In both these plays he shows the ability to take on blockers that have momentum and still execute his assignment at a high level. This becomes important because of the versatility that he will provide to the Giants defense. He can line up with his hand in the dirt, as an OLB, as an ILB, and even as a nickel back, which he did in college.

Kirby Smart has revamped the Georgia program and he trusted Carter to line up on slot receivers. Oklahoma’s versatile H-back Dimitri Flowers lines up in the slot and Carter uses his vision to recognize the play and utilizes every bit of his length to restrict Flowers from gaining his chest while flowing outside to set an effective edge on the designed RB pass. Carter then works back inside to help make the tackle. On the second play, he effortlessly defeats a wide receiver’s block and gets to the outside to make the tackle. His speed, pursuit, and range allow him to play in space effectively, but can he play next to Alec Ogletree in nickel packages if the Giants decide to go in that direction?

You can see he is off the ball and blitzing in the first clip. He starts by attacking the B gap and stunting to the outside, where there is a RB waiting in pass protection. Carter uses his hands, change of direction, and leverage to work inside and force the quarterback to tuck the ball and flow to the interior part of the defense. These stunts and pressure packages are very similar to what James Bettcher has run in Arizona.

In the next clip, he is sugaring the A gap on an important 3rd down. He comes off the blitz and acts as a QB spy, even though he was in man coverage on Anderson, who stayed for pass protection. Once Anderson hits the deck, Carter green-dogs and earns a sack, while driving the Heisman Trophy winner to the ground. He’s shown the ability to take on blocks, while also thriving in space with his athletic ability, and he has experience playing inside linebacker in subpackages. Well, can he rush the passer from the edge?  

The Giants also have the option to put Lorenzo’s hand in the dirt and tell him to rush the passer. He wasn’t overly productive in the sack department at Georgia, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be effective with some quality coaching from Bettcher, defensive line coach Gary Emanuel, and linebacker coach Bill McGovern. In the first clip, Carter doesn’t even necessarily use that ridiculous 1.56 10 yard split to get an advantage on the Notre Dame tackle; he starts with a stutter and strikes with a power swipe of the hands to knock the tackle off balance and fully open his hips to the outside. Carter then slips right past him and provides pressure on the quarterback, which forces an incompletion on 3rd and 6.

In the second clip, Carter is lined up wide and stunts back to the middle of the field. Carter shows the ability to adapt and make split decisions by following the quarterback. Carter uses his pursuit, range, and athletic ability to track the signal caller and force another poor throw, once the quarterback flips his hips and rolls out to the boundary.

Carter also shows the ability to have a significant impact on special teams. Players who provide value on special teams usually display a high motor, a good understanding of assignment football, and raw athletic ability – Carter possesses all three of these traits.

Carter is not fully developed yet. He could stand to develop more pass rush moves/counters, improve his play strength when he is takes on blocks, and work on his leg drive/hand usage while rushing the passer. Despite these shortcomings, that can be overstated, he provides a unique skill-set that is versatile and perfect for James Bettcher. He’ll develop his craft and be a quality addition to this defense; and when it comes to pass rushers, this defense needs quality. There is not enough proven talent that can rush the passer behind Oliver Vernon and I still have my concerns about the Giants secondary.

The Giants have taken the necessary strides to improve their roster this season, but there are still significant holes that will need to be filled by young unproven players. Carter is one of those young unproven players and I expect him to be used in a variety of ways. The expectations are high, but I feel Carter has what it takes to get the job done in New York. But the real question is still here, do the Giants have enough talent on defense to compete in a tough division? We’ll find out soon enough.   

Nick Falato wrote this article. Follow him on twitter @nickfalato and check out his other work here, including his breakdown of Wake Forest defensive end Duke Ejiofor and a look at USC quarterbacks of the past and how it applies to New York Jets QB Sam Darnold.

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