Carl Lawson has thought about one thing since tearing his ACL in the Cincinnati Bengals’ Week 8 loss to Tampa Bay last year: Just coming back better than he was before the injury.
The third-year defensive end felt like he was a better player last year than his rookie season, but his production didn’t show in the stats. After recording 8.5 sacks as a rookie, he had just one sack in seven full games before suffering the injury early in the first half against the Bucs.
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He wants to leave no doubt about his impact on the field in Year 3 and doesn’t expect any lingering effects of the ACL tear.
“I feel stronger and faster,” Lawson said. “Just taking it one day at a time and not trying to overwork me. When I got hurt I never thought it was going to take anything special to get back to where I was. The goal was to be better than I was before and that’s the goal coming back from any injury.”
“I had goals last year, but now the goal now is to control what I can control and be healthy and everything else will fall into place,” Lawson added. “I don’t take ability and everything else in production, if you start worrying about that, your game falls off.”
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So far, Lawson has impressed in training camp. The Bengals are easing him back in, but he’s still getting significant work for a guy who is only about nine months removed from major knee surgery, and he’s making the most of his chance to get on practice film.
Lawson is doing what he does best in wreaking havoc on the quarterback. He finished strong the first day in full pads Wednesday with what would have been a sack if they were tackling to the ground, while lining up on the edge against Cordy Glenn, and had at least two more during Friday’s practice.
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Fans got a chance to see the Bengals in more of a game-like atmosphere Saturday during Family Dey at Paul Brown Stadium.
“Anytime you have him out there, it’s obviously good,” second-year safety Jessie Bates said when asked about what Lawson brings to the defense. “We are excited to have him back.”
Lawson doesn’t yet know what his role will be this year, but is doing his best to make a case for more playing time under new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. Anarumo has used him in a stand-up role and other times with his hand on the ground, as he morphs between a 4-3, 3-4 and 5-2 scheme that provides more versatility.
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The former Auburn linebacker said he can play however Anarumo wants him to. He uses different moves to get to the passer depending on how he lines up and doesn’t have a preference.
As for the knee injury, that is a thing of the past and not something he thinks about or worries could happen again. Of course, it helps that he’s been through an ACL surgery before (on the other knee) in college and come back strong. He says he feels “great” now and probably could be doing more.
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“I personally think I’m not even worried about it,” Lawson said. “Even if I don’t want further injury, I feel like the way I take care of my body so I’ll be able to recover from anything as long as you don’t take a limb from me. As long as I have an opportunity to come back and compete, I’ll be 100 percent or even better than before because any injury I’ve had, that’s the way I approach it and that’s the way it’s always happened.”
Lawson knows people thought his production was down last year, and while part of him wants to make up for lost time because of the injury, he’s more concerned with proving his worth.
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“Everyone can pat you on the back and say you get as many pressures as you can, but all anyone looks at is you sack total,” Lawson said. “They can sit there and write an article about all the pressures I’ve had, but the general fan, it doesn’t matter. It is what it is, but I see it from that perspective as well. I take it and I need to improve and get better, but overall as a football player, I was way better than I was my rookie year. I was beating people way better than my rookie year but I just wasn’t getting there fast enough. The goal, and I hope it translates, is to get there faster.”
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Although Lawson isn’t putting a number on his goals, he knows it’s important to achieve those stats that everyone looks at – especially since next season will be a contract year for him.
“When you’re sitting there every year and they are deciding whether or not to replace you, numbers do matter,” Lawson said. “So, it matters, but I’m not focused on it. It comes with being a pro and being the best you can be.”
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