FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Nine months removed from Achilles surgery, New York Jets defensive end Carl Lawson won’t participate in OTA practices later this month, but he expects to be on the field for training camp in late July.
“I think I’ll be good to go, but it’s up to the organization and how they want to play it, what they want me doing and stuff like that,” Lawson said Wednesday on a Zoom call with reporters, his first interview since December. “I’ll be ready to go when my number is called. Even when I was on one leg, I was ready to go.”
Lawson is sprinting, according to coach Robert Saleh, but he’s still in the latter stages of his rehab. The team will be cautious with Lawson, their marquee free-agent signing in 2021, which means there could be a ramp-up period once camp begins.
The Jets had big expectations for Lawson after signing him to a three-year, $45 million contract, but he tore his Achilles last Aug. 20 in a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers. He was finished before the season got started. The defense struggled without him, finishing 32nd in yards allowed, 32nd in scoring and 26th in sacks.
This is a difficult injury for any player, let alone a pass-rusher who relies on first-step quickness, but Lawson is confident he can regain his old form.
“I’ve had major injuries before and I came back better,” said Lawson, who has rebounded from two ACL injuries. “This is different, but I don’t plan on not being better than I was. … But if I don’t, who knows? But I plan on being better than I was.”
Lawson dominated training camp before the injury, and he’s planning to go to school on that film. That, he believes, will provide a baseline for when he’s back on the field.
“Carl is a monster,” Jets tight end CJ Uzomah said of his former Bengals and Auburn teammate. “He’s built like an action figure. If you go on Madden and try to build a player, that is Carl. Playing with him for six years, seven years, however long it is, he’s just a freak. His get-off is unbelievable , and, in my opinion, his biggest strength is his strength. To get him back on the field, our defensive line is going to be really freaking good.”
Perhaps as insurance, the Jets have added a handful of defensive ends, most notably first-round pick Jermaine Johnson II and former Houston Texans pass-rusher Jacob Martin. They also re-signed veteran Vinny Curry, who missed last season due to complications from a blood disorder.
Lawson and John Franklin-Myers project as the starting ends, with Franklin-Myers having the flexibility to play tackle. Solomon Thomas, a free-agent acquisition, also has inside-outside versatility. Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins are the top returning tackles.
“I think the potential is out the roof,” Lawson said. “I love this group. There’s a bunch of guys with different backstories. It’s going to be a competitive group, so it’s going to create a breeding ground for absolute monsters.”