It wasn’t a surprise when the New York Giants drafted Lorenzo Carter out of Georgia in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
The team desperately needed linebacker help, particularly as they transition to a defense that places greater emphasis on the position. As well, Carter is one of the most athletic linebackers in his draft class, and potentially one of the most versatile.
Before the draft there were whispers that Carter was a favorite of new defensive coordinator James Bettcher, and after the draft GM Dave Gettleman confirmed that he tried to trade up for him, though the deal fell through.
There could be another reason, beyond Carter’s impressive blend of size and athleticism, why Bettcher was so enamored with the Georgia product. It seems that the defensive scheme run by Kirby Smart — Georgia’s head coach — is fairly similar to what the Giants will run.
The similarities were first voiced by Landon Collins back in April. Collins said,
“While he was going over it [the new defensive scheme], it was like I was in college again. It was back to what I knew like the back of my hand, and it’s going to play fast.” ...
”It’s very plain. It’s this way or no other way. There is no second-guessing it, and you can play faster that way without having the thought in your mind about second-guessing yourself about playing on the field.”
After being drafted, Carter stressed the difference in terminology, rather than in scheme.
“I think the biggest challenge has been getting in the playbook, making sure I understand all the adjustments we need to make and learning the terminology. Everywhere you go, it’s going to be different terminology, so you just want to be speaking the same language as the coaches.”
At the same practice, new head coach Pat Shurmur added that while the terminology might be different, the defense itself should be familiar for Carter.
“The terminology is different,” Shurmur said, “but for the most part, how we align and how he lines up is similar to what he did at Georgia.”
So with all that in mind, let’s to go back to Carter’s college tape and take a look at how he was used in a system that is, apparently, similar to what James Bettcher will be calling in 2018.
As an edge rusher
At outside linebacker
Carter is a phenomenal, and versatile, athlete. From the first moment he steps on an NFL field, he will be one of the most athletic linebackers in the league. Those traits were recognized at Georgia, and he was used as such, often lining up everywhere from defensive end to slot defender. As a linebacker he lined up on the line of scrimmage, off the line of scrimmage, and even as an inside linebacker at times.
But he was at his best when playing the edge and allowed to attack in to the backfield. Coincidentally, that is how Bettcher seems to plan on generating a pass rush from his new defense. Speaking about the Giants’ pass rush at June’s mini-camp, Bettcher said,
“Some of the other guys that I think can give us some impact would be guys that have a chance to win one-on-one matchups, or our guys that we can bring from different angles. And at times, if we have to, change who the fourth rusher is. At times maybe bring five or six. Whatever we would need to do.”
We’ll start with a look at Carter’s most impressive game from his senior campaign, Georgia’s win over Notre Dame. That game Carter was used almost exclusively as an edge rusher, alternating between outside linebacker and defensive end.
To start with, we see Georgia lined up in a 3-4 front, with three down linemen and four linebackers, though both outside linebackers are on the line of scrimmage, essentially creating a 5-2 front.
Notre Dame is showing run, with a pair of tight ends, the quarterback under center, and zone motion from the offensive line after the snap. However, it’s all just a show and it is really just a play-action pass as Notre Dame attempts a “shock” play early in the game.
Carter, as he frequently does, lines up across from the tight end — in this case, both linebackers are lined up over tight ends, but that is where Carter was usually found, regardless of offensive formation.
In this case, Carter initially reacts to the play-action by setting setting a firm edge with the tight end before transitioning to a long arm to rush the quarterback when he identifies the pass. The tight end proves to be no match for Carter, and his pressure helps to force the overthrow.
All told, this play should become fairly familiar to Giants’ fans over the coming season. The defense is in its base 3-4 front, aggressively crowding the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, the secondary disguises its coverage, showing a Cover - 2 look with two deep safeties and corners playing off their respective receivers. But at the snap it rotates to a Cover 1 look, with a single high safety and man coverage on the perimeter.
Expect this to be how we see Carter deployed most often: At rush linebacker, and put in position to use his athleticism to help rush the passer.
As a defensive end
Given that Bettcher employs a defense which features a “multiple” front that freely moves between two, three, four, or more down linemen it is possible that Carter could find himself with his hand on the ground as a defensive end in certain situations.
As it so happened, when Georgia moved to their nickel package, Smart would frequently have Carter move from his rush linebacker position to a defensive end in a four-man front.
At this point in the National Championship game, Georgia was in its nickel package nearly every snap as Alabama was forced to rely more on the pass to claw their way back from a double-digit deficit.
The offensive play is an inside zone run, the kind of play which forms the foundation of Alabama’s offense. The Georgia defense gets great penetration, using a defensive tackle twist to disrupt the offense’s blocking scheme and help open gaps for their linebackers as they crash down in to stuff the run.
As a linebacker
To say that James Bettcher is fond of sending extra rushers is something of an understatement. Having blitzed on 36.6 percent of passes in 2017 — down from 40.9 percent when he had Tony Jefferson in 2016 — Bettcher is certainly “Blitz-Happy.”
So let’s take a look at Carter playing a bit more of a “traditional” linebacker role, both as a blitzer and in coverage.
After Oklahoma offense mauled the Bulldogs to start the Rose Bowl, Georgia needed to make a significant defensive adjustment to get back in to the game. Part of this was playing a more aggressive brand of defense, as well as moving players (including Carter) around the defensive front.
Here we see Georgia in a 2-4 front, which happens to be one of Bettcher’s favorite fronts to run. Carter lines up as an inside linebacker, “sugaring” the A-gap.
“Sugaring” the gap means that a player is showing blitz, to the point of faking the rush, before dropping back into coverage. In this case, judging by his movements after retreating from threatening the left A-gap, Carter is spying quarterback Baker Mayfield. Mayfield had already hurt Georgia’s defense a few times by scrambling, and putting their most athletic linebacker on him is a smart move. This is proven out when Mayfield breaks the pocket and Carter helps bring him down for the sack.
The important part of the play is how Georgia plays upon Carter being used as a blitzer to force a breakdown in the blocking scheme. Because of how dangerous his length and explosiveness make him, the center has to prioritize Carter, leaving Roquan Smith to the running back. Not only does this ultimately leave the center without anyone to block, but forces the running back to have to run that much further to pick up Smith — which leads to Mayfield being disrupted.
As we saw when looking at how Bettcher might use Olivier Vernon, he does occasionally ask his edge rushers to drop into coverage in zone blitzes.
Georgia asked the same of Carter, though it was with more frequency than Bettcher called for Chandler Jones to drop into coverage. Carter played coverage both as a linebacker and even from the slot — though this was often because that is where the tight end lined up.
With the tight end detatched from the line of scrimmage, Carter starts the play in coverage to the left of the defensive front.
However, rather than covering the tight end as he runs down the field, Carter instead drops in to a shallow zone over the receivers. Mayfield initially peeks at the vertical route on the top of the screen before coming to the right side of the field. He initially wants to throw the vertical route from the tight end, but that is covered well. He then looks to the route combination at the bottom of the field, but Carter’s length and the cramped quarters make that too risky. Ultimately, the coverage gives the pass rush time to flush Mayfield from the pocket, resulting in the sack.
How will Bettcher use Lorenzo Carter?
Well, we’ll have to wait a while to find out for sure, but if his college scheme is any indication, Carter will be a rusher first and foremost. He had his most success when turned loose and allowed to rush, as he was in the Notre Dame game, and the Giants desperately need a speed rusher.
Carter’s athletic versatility might someday be a tremendous strength as a “three dimensional” player. But in college it was something of a curse, as coaches couldn’t help but ask him to wear a wide variety of hats, from defensive end to slot corner. That variety seemed to keep him from honing any one skillset to its highest potential.
The Giants coaching staff has talked about his ability to play the run, rush the passer, play on the line of scrimmage, off the line of scrimmage, and drop in to coverage. Given a year or two to hone his craft he could well be that player. But for the 2018 season, I would expect Carter to spend most of his time hunting quarterbacks.
It’s worth noting that if Kirby Smart and James Bettcher’s schemes are as similar as Landon Collins and Pat Shurmur say, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Carter’s learning curve shortened and him carve out a role for himself sooner rather than later.