Jets pass rusher Carl Lawson itching to put lost 2021 behind him

Jets pass rusher Carl Lawson itching to put lost 2021 behind him
Mark Cannizzaro

The days were long for Carl Lawson last season. Especially Sundays. Those were the longest days. They hurt the most.

The Jets’ 27-year-old pass rusher, whose 2021 season was sabotaged by an Achilles injury he suffered in training camp, is hellbent on making up for lost time in 2022.

A year removed from his horrible injury, Lawson recalled what drove him through the endless hours of rehab and the depression of watching his teammates play the games without him.

“I wanted it as bad as you want to breathe,’’ Lawson said Wednesday after practice. “It’s ‘What are you willing to do to sacrifice to get to a certain point?’ ”

The first “certain point’’ for Lawson will be Friday night in the preseason opener against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, where he’ll be in a uniform and helmet in a game against another team for the first time since Jan. 3, 2021, when he was closing out the 2020 season with the Bengals.

“I’m excited about that, to go out there and get that feeling,’’ Lawson said.

Not as excited as Jets fans are to see him chase an opposing quarterback for the first time. Because, to date, Lawson has been a myth as a Jet, having never played a game in a green-and-white uniform.

Carl LawsonCarl LawsonBill Kostroun

Fresh off the three-year, $45 million free-agent contract he signed with $30 million guaranteed in the 2021 offseason, Lawson was tearing up his first Jets training camp last summer … until he tore his left Achilles tendon in a joint practice with the Packers in Green Bay and never played a game in the 2021 season.

A year later, the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Lawson, who produced 20 sacks, 19 tackles for losses and 83 quarterback hits in his 51 games (14 starts) with the Bengals, has plans. Lofty plans.

“You never want to have a ceiling,’’ Lawson said. “You want to set expectations that can’t humanly be reached. I have the most ridiculous expectations for myself. Like, I want 100 sacks this season. I want to do something that’s not supposed to be possible.

“As far as I’m able to take it, that’s how good I want to be. I don’t see myself ever not trying to get bigger, faster, stronger, become a better player. I’m going to work and try to find any avenue I can to get to that point.’’

Lawson’s mantra is simple: He wants to be “better than what I was.’’

The Jets will take what he was. Anything more will be a bonus.

Head coach Robert Saleh said the plan is for Lawson to play Friday night in Philadelphia. He’ll likely get a series or two with the starters before the coaches begin to look 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.

Carl Lawson playfully tugs on offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur's shirt during a recent Jets practice.Carl Lawson playfully tugs on offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s shirt during a recent Jets practice. Bill Kostroun

“I’m excited for Carl — especially that first snap, just to get it out of the way for him, because there’s still ease of mind that you have to go thorough going out there and playing,’’ Saleh went on. “I know he’s practicing and feeling comfortable, but it’s still going out there and playing and getting your pads loose.’’

Lawson said he felt as if he “got that feeling’’ last week during the Jets’ Green and White scrimmage at MetLife Stadium in front of fans, even though it wasn’t a game.

“I was a little antsy, being in the stadium and having all the people around again,’’ he said. “It was totally different than at practice. I was a little too amped, and I think that was the first game feeling I had. I think I got that part out of the way. Maybe when I go out there [Friday] and have an actual jersey on and pads being under the lights, that’ll be different.’’

It’s something a lot of people — beginning with the coaching staff and the fans — are looking forward to seeing.

Asked how close he feels to being himself again, Lawson began to answer before the question was completed, saying: “Really far off. I’m getting more and more comfortable, but nowhere near where I want to be.’’

Asked what kept him going through all the hours and days of rehab, he said: “The fact that I have an opportunity. If you want something, you go get it. You sacrifice to go get your dreams.’’