When he stepped to the lectern after the Jets first practice of the preseason on Wednesday, straining his singlet, with a backpack tethered around his shoulders showing off his prodigious upper body, Carl Lawson looked like a monster.
Almost a year after he tore an Achilles tendon during a joint practice with the Packers in Green Bay, Lawson is back on the practice field
"It was horrible," he told reporters. "But you grow stronger from it. I knew I was going to come out on top. You grow stronger. Of course it was tough, but I knew I was going to come out on top. Those that don't overcome don't get results."
Lawson had a good-humored exchange with reporters and seemed to be enjoying his time taking questions, which he hadn't done since the spring.
"I was working two weeks ago and was like 'Yeah I'm fast,'" he said with a broad smile. "There was never a point where I just wanted to get back to being myself. I want to be better than I was. I want to work to be better."
Asked if he's felt any limitations on his ability, Lawson said: "The natural thing is, physically, the body heals before the mind. Pain teaches you to tense up your body when it's been healed. But it's a mind thing. We live in a society, what with social media where there's always people wondering how is this guy going to turn out. You know, it's like touching a hot stove. You're never going to forget that burn and you're never going to go to that stove again. For me and the Achilles, I have to not touch the stove."
Knowing how important he is to the Jets defensive line, and the scheme overall, Lawson hinted that he will see limited action in the Jets' three preseason games.
"I don't want to do too much, but I don't want to do too little," he said. "Just get some reps and some tape."
The affable Lawson was not the only person guardedly overjoyed that he's closing in on full fitness with the aim of starting at defensive end when the Jets open the 2022 NFL season in Week 1 against the visiting Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 11.
"Oh man, it's awesome to get the D-line working," head coach Robert Saleh said after practice, "Carl, he's a freak. He was ready to practice in OTAs. We have to protect Carl from Carl in terms of the amount of work. He won't stop until we tell him to stop.
"Carl's game is much more power than anything. He still has all the power and all that stuff. As he acclimates and gets comfortable, he will return to form. He looks good."
No. 2 in the Lawson fan club is defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. Ulbrich is simply pleased as punch with the developments on the Jets defensive line since the end of last season. In free agency, GM Joe Douglas moved quickly to sign Solomon Thomas from San Francisco and Jacob Martin from Houston. Douglas then worked more of his draft magic by moving up into the first round for a third pick, Florida State DE Jermaine Johnson, and then the ferocious Micheal Clemons in the sixth round, while re-signing Vinny Curry (who missed last season due to illness).
Those additions bring added depth to augment the play of a slimmed down, yet hungry Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Sheldon Rankins, Bryce Huff, Nathan Shepherd and others.
"I'm excited to get him back," Ulbrich said on a recent Jets podcast. "Not just the talent. He was the MVP of last year's camp. He's difficult to block and deal with. He is a guy we will have to monitor because he's one of these guys so obsessed with the game, he goes so hard. He only does things one way, and we have to help him help himself. He's a guy who will work himself to death. Loves the game, a great teammate and he wants to create this amazing legacy."
Echoing Saleh, Ulbrich said: "We have to protect him from himself a little bit. He's so eager to get back out there. He's why you coach this game."
Even though Lawson said his time away from the field was on the excruciating side last season, he was active, vocal and helpful in the D-linemen's room throughout -- dissecting tape and offering insight about opposing offensive linemen before each game.
"He creates such an amazing environment for younger players," Ulbrich said. "He provides the perfect model for the way it's supposed to look, as a professional prepares. The way he takes care of his body, the way he eats and studies film. These younger guys don't know because they don't know better. So, we're fortunate to have a guy to show them what it takes at this level."
See the Green & White on the field for the first time at 2022 Training Camp.