Growing up, the Jets’ Michael Carter had no choice. He had to make the first man miss — or else.
“I grew up with a whole bunch of running backs. You used to get made fun of if you were tackled by the first person,” the rookie running back recalled on Wednesday with a smile.
Everyone in the family played running back and they would watch film of the game’s greats, who never went down easy. His father, Tony, was a running back at South Carolina State, and so were his two brothers, Dwayne and Josh.
It was the only position Carter knew. He toyed with safety in high school, but after getting beat deep at the end of a game, and getting yelled at for his lack of execution, that experiment was over. It was all offense from there on out.
It has gotten him pretty far.
This past Sunday, Carter began to show the potential the Jets saw when they selected him in the fourth round, out of North Carolina. He produced 88 total yards on 13 touches, rushing 11 times for 59 yards and catching two passes for 29 yards in a loss to the Patriots. A good portion of those yards came after first contact, as the 5-foot-8, 201-pound Carter bounced off tackles or dragged defenders. He wouldn’t go down easily.
“He’s shown somehow, some way, guys just fall off him,” head coach Robert Saleh said.
During his press conference on Wednesday, Carter frequently smiled and laughed. It wasn’t unique. That’s part of his personality. Earlier in the day, Saleh talked in glowing terms of Carter’s attitude, the energy and enthusiasm he brings to practice. He’s living out a dream.
“It’s my job. I don’t have to dress up and wear a collared shirt every day,” Carter said, referring to a 9-to-5 job. “Nothing wrong with collared shirts, though. I think they’re great.”
Carter is part of a crowded offensive backfield, a group that features veterans, such as Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman, and young players, such as himself and La’Mical Perine.
Carter has approached the season just as he did at North Carolina, when he shared carries with current Broncos rookie running back and close friend Javonte Williams, who he will face on Sunday.
“It’s just about going to work every day and focusing on yourself, because when you start focusing on other people you lose yourself,” Carter said. “I’m just worried about what I have going on and how I can help the team.”
He has learned a lot already about the NFL, from the start of training camp up to now. Talent only goes so far. Preparation is essential. Watching extra film is a necessity. Every detail is important. That additional yard, he said, can be very impactful.
He played that way against the Patriots. He was productive early and played 33 snaps, tied with Johnson for the team lead, after getting just 16 snaps and five touches the previous week.
Saleh raved about Carter’s performance, calling it electric, marveling at his ability to shake off tacklers. Carter wasn’t about to take any bows, though. It was one game, an ugly loss, and nothing he felt that needed to be celebrated.
“I think I left a lot out there,” Carter said. “The difference between being good and great is so small. It doesn’t mean anything if you can’t do it again.”
“I got a chance,” he added, “to make an impact every game.”