Jets running back Michael Carter is the first one to tell you his sophomore season in the NFL was not up to his standard.
The North Carolina product, drafted in the fourth round in 2021, started his third season on the right foot.
"In this game, you can't get too high or two low," Carter said on Saturday after rushing for 19 tough yards and hauling in a 25-yard pass from Zach Wilson that set up the Jets' first score in their 27-0 preseason win over the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, NC. "We all want 100-yard games, but the reality is sometimes you get tough looks, like I had that last year. I try to teach from my experience."
Carter added after the long connection: "I knew it was going to be a big play from the way they were set up. I'm just glad he got me the rock, it was next level stuff from No. 2 [Wilson].
It was tough sledding last season for Carter and the Jets' ground game with nine different starting offensive line combinations. Though he played in 16 games in the 2022 season, Carter rushed for 402 yards and 3 TDs after rushing for 639 yards and 4 TDs as a rookie.
But on Saturday, Carter, rookie Israel Abanikanda, Bam Knight and the rest of the Green & White running backs rumbled for 141 yards on 37 carries, including Abanikanda's 25-yard jaunt that fell inches short of crossing the goal line.
HC Robert Saleh chose to play most of his starters on offense as only QB Aaron Rodgers, OL Alijah Vera-Tucker and WRs Garrett Wilson and Randall Cobb sat out. The starting offensive line, from left to right, was Billy Turner, Laken Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, Wes Schweitzer and Max Mitchell. That group played two series and carved out 34 yards for the backs and the reserves picked up where the starters left off. The Jets controlled the ball for 35:50 and had 21 first downs (8 rushing) to Carolina's 10 (2 rushing).
"They ran hard," Saleh said of his running backs. "Michael, he feels like he's damn near back. I know he was frustrated from his second season, but one thing you can count on with him is to make the first guy miss and churn out those 4-, 5-, 6-yard runs. I thought he did a really nice job making the first guy miss today and looking like who he is. I thought Bam ran hard. Obviously we're always looking for more ball security, but overall, I thought he ran his tail off. When you can fall forward and make something out of nothing and keep yourself ahead of the sticks, it starts with the offensive line and the run game, you're going to give yourself a chance to possess the ball, which I felt we did in the first half and the second half."
See the best photos from second preseason game of the 2023 season.
Abanikanda, the rookie out of Pitt who played in high school at Abraham Lincoln in Brooklyn, showed some dazzling speed and moves in 12 carries for 56 yards including his 26-yard run in the second quarter that nearly resulted in a TD. Two plays later Wilson connected with TE Kenny Yeboah on a short scoring toss.
On Abanikanda, Carter said: "That long run set up the TD. He's got good hands, he just has to get his confidence to the NFL level. He's so cool, got the swag. He's coming along well, but for rookies there's one thing, they have to learn how to practice and he did real fast. It doesn't look like he's running fast, but he's fast. He knows how to find the end zone."
Speaking about the running backs, Wilson said: "They were a huge help, but also hats off the guys up front. That's the challenge. The message is to go out there and give it all you got. We ran efficiently with the first and second group and when Timmy [Boyle] was out there."