Shaq Lawson has not had a great first two years of his professional career. Year one was completely derailed by injury (and the Ryan brothers). Year two was seen about as close to being a rookie year without actually being a rookie year. A new coaching staff didn’t seem to ease his transition either. Despite these setbacks, Lawson has still been considered underwhelming considering his lofty draft position (19th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft). This year he seems to have come on better, drawing praise for his work ethic and attitude.
During the offseason, I noted several notable issues that would need to be cleaned up. Lawson showed tremendous power, but was highly inconsistent using it. Poor hand fighting technique and a small arsenal of moves while rushing were seen as a problem. Lawson also struggled to get off the snap quickly, and frequently was far behind his linemates. With last year as our baseline, let’s take a look and see where he’s grown.
Shaq Lawson is delayed off the snap, but not drastically. His head suggests he’s looking at the man in front of him which could be the reason why. Despite the delay, he understands his team has the receivers covered and plays Cam Newton perfectly. Lawson has good position to pursue and gets his hand up as soon as he sees Newton wind up.
Lawson’s head is looking more to the ball and he moves in sync with the entire line. Between this play and last, it suggests that Lawson’s delays are not physical or neurological in nature. When he’s responding to the snap, he moves just fine. He’s attempting some hand fighting, which starts to work. The ball is out too fast for Lawson to impact the play but he ensures Newton has nowhere to go if the play is slower to develop.
Like in the second play, Lawson has his eyes on the ball and there’s no delay off the snap. He sees Newton’s arm cock back and knows the time to pass rush is over. This batted pass is all heads up play on the part of Lawson.
Lawson’s head is turned to the ball and he’s tied for first at the races. Lawson is trying to hand fight more frequently so far this year with mixed results. Not only is Lawson not driving toward Cam Newton but he’s pushed so far behind Newton that it creates a wide open lane for the quarterback to scramble or drift to see his throwing lanes better.
Lawson demonstrates excellent power again and at one point is holding off two lineman. A true double-team is beyond Lawson (and most ends to be fair), but when stacked up like this he’s a good match. Lawson knows the play goes behind him and disengages before the runner is beyond where he can help out. Lawson walks back to narrow the lane and turns in time to help his opponent to the ground. This is a team effort stop, but Lawson played his part.
Lawson isn’t getting a good push and remains somewhat inconsistent in the power game. He does a fantastic job of breaking off the block and clogging the lane however. Lawson gets enough of Carlos Hyde to end the play before it gets too far. A little better push initially and Lawson would have given a demonstration on how to stuff a run for no gain.
Here’s likely our most disappointing play. Lawson isn’t getting great push or winning his hand fighting battle. Most damning however is that he finds another gear after seeing the missed tackle. If he had found that gear right away this play is a little less positive for the Browns.
Lawson is a little late off the snap but not anywhere near as bad as what we saw last season. More importantly, he blows up the line and disrupts Hyde enough to let the rest of the team clean it up. If Matt Milano makes the tackle this is a dominant performance from the defense.
Lawson is again slightly slower than his teammates, but follows up with a nasty push on David Njoku. He’s so far in the backfield that Carlos Hyde has to cut and slow to get around. Lawson one arms the running back and assists Tremaine Edmunds on the tackle.
Shaq Lawson’s improvement seems to be real. Lawson seems to have been coached up to play off the ball this year and is much better off the snap than last season. His ability to use his strength is still spotty at times and his finesse techniques could use a lot of work. Overall though, Lawson is more consistently impacting the play. It’s only preseason, but Lawson’s improvements aren’t ones that should go away when teams start scheming for one another.