Carl Lawson’s path to Cincinnati might have been helped by his connection to a former Bengals lineman.
After the Cincinnati Bengals took the 6-foot-2, 253-pound defensive end from Auburn with their first pick of the fourth round (No. 116 overall) on Saturday, former All-Pro offensive tackle Willie Anderson posted on Instagram that he had made a call to Marvin Lewis on behalf of Lawson.
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“Yes, I made a call to Marvin, but the work started back in high school by (Carl) and his dad,” Anderson wrote on Instagram and Twitter. “I had nothing to do with the effort and work he’s done to get himself to this level. I’m just proud I know this kid. … I just have a feeling he will positively affect the Bengals.”
Whether that call to Lewis made an impact on the coaching staff or not, Anderson had at least some impact on Lawson’s career to this point.
The two met when Lawson was a junior in high school, and Lawson trained with Anderson — also an Auburn product — throughout his time in college. Adding to the connection, Anderson’s son, Jair, is a wide receiver at Georgia Tech, where Lawson’s father played fullback.
Lawson is coming off a first-team All-SEC season as a junior in 2016, when he recorded 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks for the Tigers. Anderson at least played a small part in that.
“His son went to my high school and just knowing him through Auburn and stuff like that, sometimes I’ll go train with him and just pick up little things about how to beat offensive linemen,” Lawson said.
Lawson also trained with former Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes at a young age, working out with him and XPE Sports trainer Tony Villani for a summer as an 11-year-old.
Ironically, Anderson compared Lawson to Spikes in his Instagram post, saying the Bengals are getting Takeo Spikes-like effort and intensity in Lawson.
“I got real cut up that summer because they had guys training so hard,” Lawson said of that summer working out with Spikes.
Lawson’s college career didn’t quite go as he had expected, as he tore the ACL in his left knee in the spring after a Freshman All-American campaign in 2014 (7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles), forcing him to take a medical redshirt.
The following year he was named a team captain but again missed half of the season with a hip injury, managing just one sack in seven games. His breakout season this past fall was enough to give him confidence in his draft potential, though he was surprised to drop to the third round.
“Just being able to stay healthy, that was the biggest thing for me,” Lawson said. “I’ve been good for like a year and a half. The hip injury took like seven weeks and the ACL, I had to sit out the whole season. I’m healthy now and I just can’t wait to go play.”
Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Lawson was cleared by doctors and the coaching staff felt good about taking him, especially where they got him.
Lawson is a pass-rush specialist who can play defensive end or outside linebacker for the Bengals.
“We do a lot of research on these guys, and we felt we got great value with Carl there where we took him,” Guenther said.
Defensive line coach Jacob Burney worked with Lawson at his Pro Day at Auburn and recalled Lawson’s “outstanding effort” sticking out to him.
Lawson said he knew Burney was going to give the players a serious workout that day when he smiled and waved at Burney and got no response.
“I put it to him, and he stood up every time, so that was very impressive,” Burney said. “This is a talented kid, a leader on his team, and he was ready to go. Some of the other guys faded, but he was there, so that just let me know how tough he is between his ears. Then with the talent, with his leadership qualities, he’s got a good football mind, as well as just a good football personality. We’re fortunate to get him.”