Carl Lawson, the father of the Cincinnati Bengals’ fourth-round pick by the same name, used to watch with pride and amusement as his son would dominate offensive linemen in pee wee football to the point where he could cause fumbles just by sheer intimidation when lined up directly over the center.
The only true competition young Carl got was when he rough-housed with his dad, who played fullback on Georgia Tech’s national championship team in 1990.
But by the time Carl Jr. turned 13, even dad was no longer a match.
“I thought I was a pretty good blocker at the time and I still thought I could take him,” Carl Sr. said. “We got in the car and drove to the field and put the cone down and lined up and I said ‘Ok, come off the edge to me.’ I didn’t expect to be bull-rushed, and the next thing I know I was crumpled, laying on the field and he was walking away saying “I told you.’
“I laid there for like 10 minutes,” he added. “It was that passing of the torch. I couldn’t believe he just did that to me.”
Carl Jr. continued to lay waste to anyone who stood in his way at Milton High School in Alpharetta, Ga., where he recorded 15 sacks as a junior and 27 as a senior. Ranked the No. 1 defensive end in the country, Lawson signed with Auburn and requested to wear No. 55 in honor of former Tigers – and Bengals – linebacker great Takeo Spikes.
Lawson’s career at Auburn was slowed by hip and knee injuries, but he was healthy in 2016 and recorded nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss in 13 starts before declaring for the NFL Draft and landing in Cincinnati.
“I’ve got natural football instincts so I’m just here to be a football player and listen to what my coaches tell me,” Carl Jr. said Saturday before his second practice of Bengals rookie camp.
“It’s my job to go home every night and study,” he added.
Carl Sr. said the crash course began before his son even had a playbook.
“Last weekend when he got drafted, 30 minutes later he was locked up in his room watching film of the Bengals defense,” he said. “He’s always been like a sponge and very inquisitive. He puts a lot of time into watch film.”
Carl Sr. admitted his son is a quicker learner than he is. While the knee injury eight years ago marked the last time he tried to block his son, it wasn’t the last time he challenged him.
“About a year later we were messing around kick boxing and I broke my foot,” he said. “I tried to hit him with a roundhouse kick and he blocked it with his knee. I broke two bones in my foot. That was the last time I challenged him in anything. Every day he saw me in that boot, he just started laughing.”
The Bengals are hoping to use the 6-foot-2, 261-pound Lawson’s physical prowess and mental acumen in multiple ways. They gave him No. 58 and are listing him as a linebacker, but they also have him taking reps at defensive end this weekend.
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“We’re going to use him in both areas,” Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “Right now he’s working half as a linebacker and half as an end in nickel situations. I’ve always said the more you can do the better.
“(His intelligence) is very key,” he added. “It’s one of the factors why we took him. A guy who can’t understand football concepts can’t do the things we’re going to ask him to do.”
While the Bengals will ask Lawson to cover tight ends and running backs as a SAM linebacker, his No. 1 assignment will be getting after the quarterback, which is what he does best.
Lawson said he’s always studied pass rushers for tips and tricks to add to his craft.
“Anybody who’s in my mode, size wise, I try to emulate moves,” he said. “I watch them all. It’s an art form. It’s a thing of beauty watching a rusher on film do something cool. It’s not only studying it, I get to enjoy what I do. That’s a great part of playing football. It’s your job, but you also enjoy your job. Not many people have that.
“I’ve always loved it, so I guess I was just born to do this.”