New York Jets defensive end Carl Lawson is planning to return on Friday in the preseason opener at Philadelphia. Last season, the Jets paid Lawson $45 million to be their dominant pass rusher, but a torn Achilles tendon forced him to miss the entire 2021 season.
Lawson led the NFL’s first-year players with 8.5 sacks after joining the Cincinnati Bengals from Auburn as a fourth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He was named to the Professional Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie team. Lawson missed 13 games with injuries over the next two seasons and totaled six sacks.
When the 27-year-old reflected on what kept him going during the long hours of rehabilitation, he said it saddened him to see his teammates play without him.
“I wanted it as bad as you want to breathe,’’ Lawson said. “It’s ‘What are you willing to do to sacrifice to get to a certain point?’ “
Following Wednesday’s training camp practice, Lawson appeared eager to return to the field. But, he admitted, he was not entirely satisfied with his performance.
“I’m getting more and more comfortable, but nowhere near where I want to be,” Lawson said “I had to take a few steps backward before I could go forward. I had to tell myself that’s OK, that slowly but surely I’m getting there.”
Lawson with Jets
If Lawson claimed that his performance has been depleted, New York head coach Robert Saleh strongly disagreed. The coach was blown away when he saw Lawson return when the team began training camp in Florham Park.
“Carl, he’s a freak,” Saleh said at the press conference. “His work ethic–I’m telling you, he was ready to practice in OTAs. It’s just, we have to protect Carl from Carl in terms of the amount of work he’s going to do because he won’t stop.”
Lawson is scheduled to play Friday night, according to Saleh. He’ll probably get a few series with the starters before the coaches start looking at the backups.
“We’re getting him ready to go,’’ Saleh said Wednesday. “He’s been ready since OTAs and you don’t want to treat him like he’s in bubble wrap, but at the same time you’ve got to be smart.
In free agency, the Jets not only re-signed Lawson on the edge. They also signed cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead, drafted cornerback Sauce Gardner fourth overall, pass rusher Jermaine Johnson later in the first round, The pass defense should be significantly improved.
The Jets ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, surrendering an average of 138.3 yards per game. Against the Jets, rushers averaged 4.48 yards per carry, ranking 24th in the league.
Their worst game came against the Colts when they allowed 260 yards rushing, including touchdown runs of 78, 34, and 21 yards in 2021. The Jets’ last winning season was in 2015, and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2010. However, optimism about the Jets’ prospects in 2022 appears to be growing.
The Jets kicks off its three-game preseason schedule against the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday, and the regular season begins on Sept. 11 against the Baltimore Ravens.