Shaq Lawson has a clean bill of health. After shoulder surgery in May and a lengthy rehabilitation he is now medically cleared and ready to officially begin his NFL career as he joins his teammates on the practice field this week. Playing as long as he did in college at less than 100 percent, Lawson has a whole new outlook on what he'll be able to do in the National Football League.
"It's going to feel better to know that I'm 100 percent," Lawson told Buffalobills.com. "We took care of the problem with my shoulder and went to see one of the greatest doctors in New York. Being 100 percent it's going to be a better Shaq on the field."
The outside linebacker has undergone a rigorous training regimen with the Bills strength and conditioning staff the last few months, but even he knows practice and games require a different means of fitness.
"It's a different thing getting back on the football field with the helmet and pads on," said Lawson.
"I haven't had those on in a long time. So I'm going to continue to work on my conditioning and pay attention to the vets. They're going to lead me through the practices."
Lawson was supposed to be a day one starter after the Bills made him a first-round pick. Things are different now with the emergence of veteran Lorenzo Alexander, who currently leads the NFL in sacks. Head coach Rex Ryan says Alexander has earned the right to remain the starter meaning Lawson will be a rotational pass rusher when they activate him for a game day.
"We know he is a really good talent and I think combined with the players that we have, I think it will be good," said Ryan. "I think as far as saying well is he a starter, well no he is not going to start now. But we are going to work Shaq in there."
This week of practice is expected to be the time for Lawson to get his feet wet and for the defensive coaches to determine where he fits best in terms of sub-packages and pass rush schemes. The staff hasn't seen him on the field working with and off of the other 10 players on the field.
Lawson has been in every team meeting since the day after he had surgery in May, so he believes he has a strong working knowledge of Buffalo's multiple defensive scheme.
"I've got a great feel for the things we run and how they put our guys in great position to make plays these first six weeks," he said. "When I've been watching the game plan I just picture myself in that position making those plays like those guys have been doing."
And when he's been unsure of something he hasn't been afraid to ask vets like Alexander and Jerry Hughes.
"He's always asking us questions," said Hughes. "We just try to give him that field insight where he understands the play and how to take what he's seeing in the playbook and apply it on the field. I'm telling him that when we get on the field there are going to be moving parts. Things are going to happen and it might not be the exact look on the card, but you still have to be able to process it mentally and still be able to move full speed while doing it."
Lawson knows that part of his acclimation to the pro game will be a process, which is why it's probably more likely that the pass rusher makes his NFL debut in Week 8 instead of this Sunday.
"He will start practicing with our team and we will see where he is at," said Ryan. "I guess it is hard to imagine, but he has not had one day in NFL practice, but we will see how he is. Then we will look at it as the week goes on to see if he will play. I thought initially we waited this long for our first round pick, but we've got to do the smart thing and what is best for the young man also."
Lawson is realistic. He'll take every practice a day at a time and hopefully convince the coaching staff that he can contribute sooner rather than later.
"I'll continue to learn from guys like Marcell, Kyle, 'Zo and Jerry, the guys who have been here," Lawson said. "I need to continue to learn from those guys and from great coaches like coach (John) Blake, coach Rob (Ryan) and coach Rex. It's what is going to continue to help get my game better and be the player people thought I was when they first drafted me. They just had to wait a little longer."
And now that he's as healthy as he's been in three years, Lawson is equipped with the conviction that he can perform at his very best when he finally gets the call to play.
"I was good with just one arm throughout my college career. Now with my other shoulder stronger maybe I can be a dominant player," he said. "Through the whole rehab I'd tell myself, 'When you get a 100 percent Shaq, it's going to look a whole lot better out there.'"