ATHENS — At first, Lorenzo Carter seemed genuinely oblivious to the narrative. Then he seemed genuinely bothered by it.
As he found himself surrounded by media recently, Carter began to sense a theme to the line of questioning he was receiving. In varying words posed in different ways, he was being asked why he hasn’t lived up to his hype.
And he seemed perplexed by it.
A rising junior, the 6-foot-6, 242-pound outside linebacker from Norcross has competed in all 26 games Georgia has played since he has been on campus and started seven of them. But after logging 4.5 sacks in 2014, Carter had none last year and only 19 tackles after recording 41 the previous season.
Sophomore slump, he was asked?
“It was a learning process; I wouldn’t call it a slump,” said Carter, a former five-star prospect and the state’s No. 1 player coming out of Norcross High. “… I played behind a first-rounder. I have to learn. It’s a learning process, the game of football, especially on the highest level, the SEC. You can make plays but you just have to learn. It’s a grown-man league. You’ve got to be ready.”
Indeed, since arriving at UGA, Carter mostly has had to bide his time behind Leonard Floyd, who is expected to be a first-round pick in next week’s NFL draft, and Jordan Jenkins, who’s also expected to play at the next level. And what playing time Carter did actually get, Davin Bellamy began to eat into.
Of the two, the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Bellamy proved to be more adept at defending the run. Carter developed the reputation of being a pass-rushing specialist, and in the age of up-tempo, fast-as-they-can-go offenses, it’s hard to get on the field that way.
“I’m the biggest critic of myself,” Carter said. “I don’t know what other people are saying, but I feel like I’ve just got to make plays. The only way you can do it is to be out there and be involved. So that’s what I’ve been working on.”
So what Carter has learned is, to get on the field he has to toughen against the run. He has to learn to stick his nose in there and fight through the blocks of tackles and tight ends and fullbacks and set the edge.
That’s the message he has constantly been receiving from his coaches, especially Kirby Smart.
“A lot of chewing out, a lot of personal conversations,” Carter said of his interactions with the first-year head coach. “Kirby, he’s telling you everything for a reason. He’s not going to yell at you for no reason. He’ll love you when you do something right; he’ll love you when you do something wrong. But he’ll let you know you did something wrong.”
Said Smart: “I’ve been pleased with what he’s doing so far. But I think he’s one of those guys you have to push and challenge all the time because he’ll relax on you.”
The message would appear to be getting through. On Tuesday, three days after the G-Day Game, Carter was one of three defensive players to receive the Coffee County Hustle Award, which goes each spring to the players that show the most determination and competitiveness on the practice field.
“Zo has always been a hard worker,” Bellamy said of his friend and teammate. “He’s definitely taken some strides trying to be a leader. It’s new for a lot of us having to be in this position.”
Carter didn’t necessarily standout in the G-Day game, though it was hard for anyone playing his position as the quarterbacks were off limits. He had two tackles, same as his counterpart.
But with Floyd and Jenkins moving on to the NFL, it’s now up to Carter to change his story. He’s in position now to live up to his lofty billing.
“I’m just trying to become the all-around football player, the every-down football player,” Carter said. “You’ve got to understand, at Georgia we have great players all over the place. You just have to wait your turn. It’s just about being ready. You have to mature body-wise, you have to understand the plays.
“I’m just ready now, that’s all I know.”