14 - 3 reasons why Shaq Lawson's game can take a big leap forward

Posted Jul 14, 2017

Shaq Lawson's rookie year was an exercise in patience and catch-up as his shoulder surgery cost him half of his debut season. Things are lining up a lot better for the former first-round pick in 2017.

Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We’ll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 27th and the Sept. 10th opener at New Era Field against the New York Jets.

Shaq Lawson was drafted by the Bills with the 19th overall pick in the 2016 draft. Lawson headed into his first workouts with the Bills with high expectations. Disappointingly, Lawson re-aggravated a shoulder injury he sustained in college, and it cost him half his rookie year. But a lot more is working in Lawson’s favor in 2017, which could help his game take a big leap forward this fall. 

Participating in offseason workouts, especially for a rookie, is paramount. The NFL is a major step up from college – the play is faster and players are stronger.

Lawson, when drafted by the Bills, was said to have a shoulder injury that would need to be addressed after the 2016 season. However, during team workouts in May of 2016, Lawson re-injured his troublesome shoulder. The team announced that he would undergo shoulder surgery, which resulted in him missing all of OTA’s, minicamp, training camp, and the first two months of the season.

When Lawson returned, he had to play catch-up. Not only did he have to get up to NFL speed, he had to learn a new defensive system. Missing the offseason certainly put a damper on his rookie season. However, now Lawson is healthy and has been able to participate fully in offseason workouts. 

“I feel like last year was going by slow because I was hurt and trying to determine when I was getting back on the field,” said Lawson. “I’m making sure every day I’m taking care of my body a lot more extra so I can continue to be on the field.”

Under Rex Ryan last season, the Bills played a hybrid defensive scheme, but were in a 3-4 front for the most part. The defense was complex and nothing like anything Lawson had played in previously.

Clemson played a 4-3 while Lawson was at the school. He thrived in a system where he played with his hand on the ground, set the edge on run plays, and rushed the quarterback on passing plays.

Last season, Lawson was asked to complete a myriad of tasks. Not only was he asked to rush the passer, he was forced to drop into coverage and assume responsibilities of an outside linebacker and play off the line at times.

This season, Lawson should be a perfect fit in the Bills defensive scheme.

“We’re implementing a 4-3 scheme and the guys have really bought into that and that’s what we’re practicing and that’s what we’re looking forward to,” said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. “We think it fits our players well.”

Lawson is 6-3 and 270-pounds. He is a prototypical 4-3 defensive end. Much like his time at Clemson, Lawson will be able to use his size and strength to set the edge on run plays, but also use his athleticism to rush the passer. Lawson’s role will be much simpler.

“I got my hand in the dirt all [of] the time, not pretty much playing in space, guarding receivers and things like that,” said Lawson. “The 3-4 there’s a lot to learn with it, the 4-3 it’s just simple you know? Put your hand in the dirt, go get after the quarterback and set the edge for the run game.”

Lawson was only able to play in 10 games last season. He was limited in what he could do, as he struggled to master Ryan’s defense. Although his first season had its ups and downs, the experience was important. Lawson gained valuable insight into the speed of NFL play, the strength it takes to compete and has a book on some of the offensive tackles he’ll face again this season.   

With a full offseason of workouts, Lawson was able to take that experience and work on his weaknesses. As Lawson stated, he saw how complex NFL defenses could be. But, now under head coach Sean McDermott, he will be able to play in a system that maximizes his skill set.

Lawson hopes that this will all combine to remind Bills fans why he was taken in the first round. 

“I’m going to live up to that,” said Lawson. “That’s what they want me to do. I’m going to give them a reason why they drafted me here as a first-round pick. It’s time to bring what I had back when I was in college.”