FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — There was something about being back in a stadium — with pads on his shoulders and fans in the stands — that caught Carl Lawson a bit off guard.
It was only a practice, with the New York Jets taking the field last Saturday night for their annual scrimmage. But it felt like much more to the veteran defensive end.
“I was a little antsy being in that stadium and having all the people around again,” Lawson said Wednesday. “A little too amped. And I think that was like kind of like the first feeling of a game feeling, even though it was just fans, but it was like the lights, it being dark.”
Lawson is working his way to playing another game with the Jets — finally. It was supposed to happen a year ago after playing three snaps in the preseason opener against the Giants, but a ruptured Achilles tendon in his left leg at the Green Bay Packers' practice field during joint workouts put those plans on hold.
The weeks went by and Lawson dealt with the expected disappointment, which was followed by months of extensive and exhaustive rehabilitation. The goal was to be right back here again, ready to take the field Friday night in New York's preseason opener at Philadelphia.
“I wanted it," he said, "as bad as you want to breathe.”
Coach Robert Saleh said Lawson will play against the Eagles, and the defensive end and the rest of the starters on defense and offense will play about a quarter.
And Lawson thinks all the butterflies in his stomach will be long gone by the time he runs out of the tunnel.
“Maybe when I go out there actually having like an actual jersey on, that might be different, like the actual pads and stuff like that,” he said. “But that jitteriness and that feeling, I think I got that out in the green and white scrimmage.”
The Jets signed Lawson in March 2021 to a three-year, $45 million contract, envisioning him to be the pass-rushing force they've lacked for years. He was having an outstanding training camp before the injury — and he has spent the past several months trying to get back to that spot.
“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."
His coaches and teammates would beg to differ. They have raved about Lawson all summer, saying he has looked as dominant as a year ago.
“I’m excited for him, especially that first snap, just to get it out of the way for him because there is still an ease of mind that has to come through,” Saleh said. “Just going out there and playing, and I know he’s practicing and he feels comfortable, but it’s still going out there and playing and just getting your pads loose.”
Lawson recalled times during the offseason when he couldn't train as hard as he would've liked, forced to take a day off to make sure his body responded positively. That was a different approach for the 27-year-old D-lineman, who used to make a habit of overdoing it with his workouts and has overcome a few injuries during his playing career — including a torn ACL in 2018 while with Cincinnati.
“It’s not like it’s a bad thing sometimes to back off certain things,” Lawson said. “It’s a give-and-take, it’s a sacrifice, how many times are you willing to go through something? My injuries in the past weren’t anything to prevent me from messing up my long-term life. ACL, Achilles, you can recover from.
"Now if I go out there and lose an eye, maybe a limb, maybe some devastating back thing, that will affect my quality of life later on. But these are things that are just temporary pain that I can work through to achieve my dreams.”
Lawson has plenty of those, too — marked by some lofty on-field goals.
“I have the most ridiculous expectations for myself,” he said with a laugh. “I want 100 sacks in a season. I want it all. I want to do something that’s not supposed to be possible. That’s my expectation for myself and that’s why I constantly feel like I’m behind.”
NOTES: Saleh said the Jets had not yet received a report on RT Mekhi Becton's second evaluation for his knee injury, but the belief remains the O-lineman will miss the season. Becton fractured his kneecap during practice Tuesday. ... CB D.J. Reed, RB Ty Johnson, DE Vinny Curry and CB Brandin Echols all remained sidelined with hamstring ailments.
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