After eight seasons of chasing quarterbacks, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap is getting a little taste of what it feels like to be the hunted.
Dunlap has held the Bengals rookie sack record since recording 9.5 in 2010, but Carl Lawson is bearing down on him.
Lawson moved another step closer to Dunlap’s mark Wednesday when an official scoring change credited him with an additional half sack in the 20-17 victory at Denver on Nov. 19.
The fourth-round pick from Auburn has used a variety of moves to accumulate his team-high 7.5 sacks this season, which lead all NFL rookies.
And he showed off another move this week when asked about breaking Dunlap’s record: The shrug.
“Everyone keeps asking me about it,” Lawson said. “I keep saying I’m not really worried about it. I feel like Carlos felt the same way when he broke the record. I don’t really see it as that big of a thing. I’m not really worried about that sack record.”
Dunlap said he’s not worried about it either. In fact, he likes that it’s being challenged.
“I like that he’s pushing for it,” Dunlap said. “Obviously I would love to hold that, but if it was to be somebody I played with, it would be a great thing to see rather than coming back after I left and hearing a young guy got it.”
Dunlap was inactive for four of the first five games and appeared in only 12 games as a rookie.
Asked if there should be an asterisk if Lawson breaks it, Dunlap smiled.
“He’s had more games, so you could think about that,” he said. “But those are your words, not mine.”
Dunlap didn’t record his first sack until Week 10. He then had 8.5 sacks over the final six games, including at least a half sack in each one, to break Justin Smith’s record of 8.5 set in 2001.
Lawson has appeared in all 11 games this year, playing 43 percent of the snaps. He’s had at least half a sack in three consecutive games, including 1.5 Sunday against Cleveland that made him the fifth rookie in Bengals history to have multiple sacks in multiple games, and the first since Dunlap did it four times in 2010.
The others are James Francis (two games in 1990), Dan Wilkinson (two in 1994) and Smith (two in 2001).
While Lawson has said he’s not concerned about the record, he’s made it clear he does care about his total. He’s still a little miffed that he didn’t get credit for a sack in Week 4 on the play in which he lost a couple of teeth.
“I got my teeth back,” he said. “I can never get that sack back.”
Lawson appeared to record a strip-sack on the play, but the officials ruled that Cleveland quarterback Deshone Kizer’s arm was moving forward. Because it was fourth and 10, there was no reason for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis to challenge the call, so it stayed an incomplete pass.
The NFL record for sacks by a rookie is 14.5, set by Tennessee’s Jevon Kearse in 1999. In fact, the top six rookie sack numbers all were set by players drafted in the first round.
The Bengals stole Lawson in the fourth. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said he was high on him from watching the film, and his interview with him at the Combine only strengthened his opinion.
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“He was one of my favorite guys there,” Guenther said. “Typically when you ask a young pass rusher tell me the five best pass rushers of all time in the NFL, he rings off Reggie White, boom, boom, boom all the way down there and guys who played 30 years ago, you know the guy knows his craft.
“That was something that struck me right away,” Guenther added. “I asked him what’s his best pass-rush move, he ran through the whole litany of them. Some guys will tell you ‘I don’t know.’ This guy takes his craft seriously. The tip or peak is still coming for him. He’s going to be a really good player.”