HOOVER, Ala. — Carl Lawson enters his fourth season at Auburn feeling like a fresh face on campus.
Injuries have plagued the ultra-talented defensive end for most of his career. A knee injury kept him completely off the field in 2014 and a hip injury forced him to miss several games in 2015 and he never fully recovered, playing at 60-percent speed the remainder of the season, he admits.
He’s played a total of 21 games and has amassed 37 tackles in two seasons. Still, the hype is real. As he sat in front of a large contingent of reporters for 15 minutes at SEC Media Days, he faced questions about his NFL future and the prevailing thought he is one of the top 10 pass rushers in the country.
“That’s not a valid statement for anybody to say because I haven’t played,” Lawson said. “I don’t know who said that.”
Lawson is a no-nonsense and closed-lipped player. He’s known more by local reporters for his “no comment” responses than for waxing poetic about football. He doesn’t say much because he’d rather play football and prove himself first.
It’s strange to him to hear all of the hype after amassing only 17 tackles and one sack last season. He knows what he’s capable of achieving, and even admitted — with some coaxing — that he’s as explosive as Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett. Still, he’s not the type to buy into what everyone else is selling.
“I have goals in my own head,” he said. “Maybe I’m superstitious or something like that but I would really like to keep that to myself. If it happens, it happens.”
Does he believe he is one of the top defensive ends in the country?
“I’m going to keep it to myself,” Lawson said.
Lawson’s teammates and coaches are certainly not shy of building up Lawson as the best player on the team.
“He’s a game-changer,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “When you have a guy like that, it changes everything. And it really makes people better than maybe they are, or it hides some of your deficiencies. He’s got that ability.”
Auburn’s deficiencies last season were plentiful. On defense, the pass rush struggled again and finished 13th in the SEC. Lawson may not be able to correct that by himself, but he certainly looked the part of a “game-changer” in the first half of Auburn’s season opener against Louisville. He forced an interception on the first play of the game and disrupted Louisville’s offense until injuring his hip late in the second quarter.
“It’s really simple: Carl Lawson wants to be the best pass rusher and he also wants to be a great run stopper,” Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams said. “At the next level, you want to be known as being the best of both worlds. That’s what I think his goal is.”
Lawson is a nerd in the film room. He owns an all-access pass to the NFL’s All-22 camera system online and studies defensive linemen such as the San Diego Charger’s Melvin Ingram.
The former five-star prospect just hasn’t had as much time on the field to show he’s worthy of the hype and prove all of the film study will translate into a successful college and NFL career. He doesn’t feel like a third- or fourth-year player. He feels more like a second-year sophomore, he said.
“It’s been unfortunate,” said Lawson, “but the more experience I get, I do feel like I become a better player.”