CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Bengals fourth-round draft pick Carl Lawson knew as early as age 13 that he might have what it takes to be a great pass rusher when his father tried to block him in the backyard and wound up injuring his knee in the process.
His father, Carl Lawson Sr., was no slouch as a football player, either. He played fullback on the 1990 Georgia Tech team that earned a share of the national championship.
According to Carl Jr., it was his dad who instigated the one-on-one battle that wound up with Carl Sr. getting hurt.
"He was talking about, 'I was an All-American fullback. I could block you,' " Carl Jr. recalled. "I was like 'All right.' It didn't turn out so well. I hurt his knee. It was bad. He never tried to block me again."
Few people were able to do block Carl Jr. while he played for Milton High School in Alpharetta, Ga. As a senior he had 27 quarterback sacks and 44 tackles for loss after recording 15 sacks and 31 tackles for loss as a junior. He was rated the No. 1 defensive end in the country as a senior by Rivals.com and 24/7Sports.com.
He chose to play at Auburn, and while he didn't start as a true freshman in 2013, he did play in all 14 games and saw his playing time steadily increase as the season progressed, finishing with four quarterback sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
After missing the entire 2014 season due to a knee injury he returned in 2015 to earn a starting spot at "Buck" defensive end. He started the opener that season, missed the next five games due to a hip injury, then started the last six games. But he had only one sack and three tackles for loss.
Lawson returned to full health last season and started all 13 games, tallying nine sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and 24 quarterback hurries.
"Rushing the passer is not always about getting sacks," said Lawson. "It's being able to affect the quarterback in the pocket and make him move his feet, just anything to distract the pass."
The big question is where the Bengals are planning to play Lawson. At 6 feet 2, 253 pounds he is too small to be an every-down defensive end, and the Bengals worked him out with both the linebackers and defensive linemen during this weekend's rookie mini-camp.
"He's a linebacker, he's a SAM (strong outside) linebacker," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said on Friday.
That doesn't mean the Bengals don't plan on moving him around to take advantage of his pass-rushing skills. It's possible he plays end in the nickel defense, but he could also be moved around in a stand-up position on the outside or even in the "Double A Gap" look defensive coordinator Paul Guenther loves to use where two linebackers stand up on both sides of the center/guard gap. They can both blitz from there, one of the two can blitz or both can drop back in coverage, which all keeps the offense guessing.
"We're going to use him in both areas (linebacker and end)," said Guenther. "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. He's a smart kid."
The Bengals got very little pressure from their linebackers in that look last season as that position combined for just three quarterback sacks.
The team primarily tries to get pressure from their front four, but outside of end Carlos Dunlap and tackle Geno Atkins, who combined for 17 sacks, the rest of the defensive line combined for only 12 sacks.
Lawson said it doesn't matter how the team utilizes him he simply enjoys rushing the passer and studies as many different moves and techniques as he possibly can.
"Anybody who's in my mode, size-wise, I try to emulate moves," said Lawson. "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. I texted (Arizona Cardinals linebacker) Markus Golden the other day. He had some spin move I watched on film. I was like, 'Bro, that move was sick.' So if I see something on film, I'll definitely let somebody know."
Lawson admits he feels like he has a gift for rushing the passer and isn't quite sure from where it comes.
"I don't know where I got it," he said. "I guess it was just watching the film and I got acclimated to it. I always loved it, so I guess I was just born to do this."
His dad certainly found that out first hand a few years ago.