Over the course of an entire NFL season, it's often a fool's errand to point to a single play as any more significant than any other. For the young Jets, however, there was a play that came at Miami in December that fits the bill. It was when cornerback Michael Carter II saw something and said something.
"Communication is everything, especially on defensive presnaps all the way through the ball being snapped and people start moving," Carter said. "I have to be talking and helping other people see what I'm seeing. It could be all wrong, but we're on the same page together. I know I have to continue to grow in the area of being vocal."
So that play ... midway through the fourth quarter against the Dolphins with the Jets trailing, 24-17, Miami was pinned deep in its own territory when Carter recognized what was to come next. Carter saw Miami's formation, turned to fellow rookie CB Bradin Echols and basically said "be ready." Echols was ready when QB Tua Tagovailoa sent a pass into the flat, stepped in front of the intended receiver Hunter Long and returned the interception 20 yards for a TD, which tied the game after the extra point.
Carter's recognition and his ability to pass along that information to Echols is only one example of the impressive growth among the Jets' rookie class. In the defensive backfield, that group includes Carter (a fifth-round draft pick, No. 154 overall, out of Duke), Echols (a sixth-round pick, No. 200 overall, out of Kentucky) and Jason Pinnock (a fifth-round pick, No. 175 overall, out of Pittsburgh).
Speaking of his fellow rookies in the defensive backfield, Carter told team reporter Ethan Greenberg: "Everybody has a good work ethic, everybody loves football. It's important to do everything you can to make sure you get the little things right when you love the game. I see the passion. As rookies, we all have a good relationship in the DBs' room. We talk all the time and have meshed well together on and off the field. When you have a love of the game, it bleeds over and you can see that on the field. As young guys we have ups and downs, but more ups than downs for sure."
Though he might be the second Michael Carter on the Jets, Carter II showed his development over 15 games (he missed the game against the Saints with a concussion and the game against the Jaguars while in the Covid protocol). Even though he was not available for those two games, he finished fourth on the defense in snaps taken with 743 and tackles with 71. In addition, he had 4 TFL, recovered 2 fumbles and had a single sack -- coming against Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady in Week 17, when he also had a season-high 6 solo tackles.
"I just bought into what everyone asked of me," he said. "The coaching philosophy that Coach Saleh is preaching. Buying in and digging into the playbook, learning and being willing to learn. Showing that I'm not going to make the same mistake twice, communicating well and being vocal, all things I'm trying to improve on coming from college. Communicating and moving fast to help get people lined up, that was an adjustment. I'm able to adjust quickly and assume a new role in defense ... and hit it."
Carter, who will turn 23 in early March, said he is going to relish some time off at the start of the offseason after what he called "a long year" that stretches back to his final season at Duke and continued to the NFL Combine, pro days, the draft, OTAs, training camp and then his first intense season as a professional.
"I'm most proud of the confidence I've been able to show and have within myself to come in and learn a new system," he said. "I was able to perform at a high level, do what was expected and prove to myself that I belong. I'm proud I was able to do that and show my passion for football. I'm looking ahead to continue to grow and be confident in my ability, take it to the next level, grow statistically and as a teammate. Within the defense, taking on whatever leadership role may be needed of me. You're never too young to lead. I know that next season there's definitely going to be more expected and I'm ready to take on that challenge, too.
"I am happy with where I am and how things are going. I can't wait to continue to reach new heights in 2022."