Skip to main content

For Michael Carter II, Jets' Cornerbacks Engage in a Covert Operation

Teaming With Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed for a Third Straight Season


Slot cornerback Michael Carter II has for three years been one of the unsung linchpins in the Jets' defense. As he prepares for his fourth season in Green & White after being drafted in the fifth round out of Duke in 2021, he is part of a key unit.

Cornerbacks Carter, All-Pro Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed have reached a level of comfort and understanding that last season helped coordinator Jeff Ulbrich's defense to finish second in the league in passing yards allowed per game (168.3). When Carter talks about the group, the word continuity is at the top of the conversation.

"I think it's a big part of it, knowing where everybody is, where everybody is supposed to be," Carter said. "We communicate so well now, whether it's overtly or covertly, just keeping everything under wraps.

"We give each other looks or certain hand things that we just know, all right, this will be doing this. We're just going to work with that to where the other team doesn't know what we're doing because they don't see us do anything. We're one step ahead. Just the amount of trust we have in each other to do our job at a high level is really what makes us go and play at a high level."

Last season, with the defense finishing among the top five in the NFL, the Jets opted to increase their use of a man coverage. And, according to Next Gen Stats, the results were pronounced: in 2022 they were ranked No. 23 in man coverage rate (24.6%), a number that rose to No. 10 in the league with a 33.3% coverage rate.

In a quirk of life in the NFL, in his rookie season Carter and the Jets traveled to Green Bay to face QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Rodgers last season spoke about the Packers' plans to take advantage of Carter, believing him to be a weak link in the middle of the Jets' defense. That didn't work, Rodgers acknowledged, as Carter impressed the future Hall of Fame QB and the Jets came away with a 27-10 win.

See all of the best images of the Jets during week 1 of 2024 OTAs.

Now, with Rodgers back after sustaining a torn Achilles tendon in last season's opener, Carter said Rodgers' wily approach to playing quarterback keeps the defense guessing, but also learning.

"I think it gives you an extra level of discipline because you can't always trust what you see when he's looking at something," Carter said. "Looking at his eyes from the other side of the front, or from the side, you just don't know because he's the kind of the no-look pass. And just moving with his eyes and shoulder, so you just have to stay on point to get to technique. I think with him, he's just the ultimate or the best ... what's the word I'm looking for ... one of the best manipulators that I've seen.

"He's like the ultimate companion and it just helps you prepare because I don't think I'm going to see anybody else like that. It gives you confidence, we can have days where you're dominating him or manipulating him or you got him thinking. You take that to a game on Sunday and replicate that at a high level."

Through his first three seasons with the Jets, Carter has never played in fewer than 15 games, though he's only come down with a pair of interceptions. The issue of takeaways has been a constant source of commentary from Ulbrich and head coach Robert Saleh. The talk is not lost on Carter.

"Just continuing to build on last year," he said. "Clean up areas of detail, really focusing on attacking the ball. Getting to those balls better. I feel like if I would have converted on three or four [interceptions] of those opportunities to get those pigs, the conversation would have been a lot different.

"And so, it's just building on last year, strive to be the best, but also staying true to myself, not focusing too much on the outside noise, but just focusing on what I need to do to get better."

It comes back to the trust that has been built through continuity the past three seasons.

"The guy next to you is your brother in the secondary," Carter said. "He knows that your know this is what you see, this is what you're going to do if you see it, and then playing off that I think really will take us to even more of an elite secondary.

Related Content