Rex Ryan went into full-spin mode Tuesday in explaining why the Buffalo Bills decided to have first-round draft choice Shaq Lawson undergo shoulder surgery last week.
“We knew this was a possibility,” the Buffalo Bills’ coach said. “When we came together, we are like, ‘what is the best thing for this young man and what is the best thing for our team?’ Well, the best thing for our team is to get this kid at 100 percent and ready to roll for us, and that’s exactly what we did. He’s going to make a 100-percent recovery from this injury and at some point he’ll be playing and he’ll be rolling and every single Bills fan out there, in my opinion, will be happy we drafted him.”
Of course, that’s not exactly the message the Bills shared when they drafted Lawson with the 19th overall pick last month. General Manager Doug Whaley said he would be a starter “right off the bus.”
As for why the team pushed that message on draft night instead of being more forthcoming about the possibility of surgery, Ryan dodged, ducked and dived around the question.
“Guys, he can play right now. If we never had the surgery, he could play right now. But what we’re trying to get is Shaq Lawson at 100 percent,” Ryan said. “That’s why we decided to have the surgery when we did. We could have waited during the season and then at some point if he had to go with the surgery, he would have been lost for the rest of the year. This way, we get him and we know at some point we’re going to have him – and not just have him out there playing, but at 100 percent.”
Of course, the team has provided no timeline on when that might be.
“We took this guy not to play the first, you know come in here and play the first five games of the season or the first four games of the season,” Ryan said. “We took the guy to be a great player for a long time, and that’s what we think we have when we drafted this young man.”
Ryan also attempted to clarify the “occurrence” of the shoulder injury that Lawson suffered during rookie minicamp, which is the term used by the team.
“When we got him in here, could he have been effective? He was pretty effective playing,” the coach said. “I think that’s why we did what we did. Could we have played him? We were. From Day One, he was out there running with the ‘ones.’ But when we had this thing, you know what, let’s get it done right, where this guy is at 100 percent, where we see the real Shaq Lawson. Not a guy, throw a number out, 80 percent or whatever.”
To replace him, the Bills are likely to turn to another Lawson – Manny. As far as plan B’s go, that’s a pretty good one. Manny Lawson is a trusted, 11-year veteran who played in all 16 games last season, with 14 starts. He took over defensive signal-calling late in the year, which shows the trust the coaching staff has in him, and finished with 47 tackles, five passes defended and one sack.
“Manny was always going to have a big role for us,” Ryan said. “He can back up all four spots. Right outside, left outside, you know inside ’backers, you can put him anywhere. And that’s really the way he can work because he’s such a smart player. But today, absolutely we put him in there with that first group in that outside linebacker spot.”
Whaley’s proclamation of Shaq Lawson being a “Day One” starter likely didn’t do the rookie any favors. Put yourself in the shoes of a veteran like Manny Lawson – would you like to hear the job you’re attempting to earn is going to a rookie?
“I wouldn’t say it’s handing him a spot, because in this league you have to prove yourself,” Manny Lawson said of Whaley’s comments about Shaq Lawson. “Day One, you can come in and be a starter and if you don’t prove yourself as a starter you’re not going to hold that position.
“For him, it puts a lot of pressure on him, because not only does he have that, he also has to prove it to the guys that’s out there on the field. He comes in and he’s starting, that’s great for him and that’s great for us, because we know that if he’s starting, he’s earned that position.”
In a few short weeks, Manny Lawson has gone from being a player who was a potential salary-cap casualty to one who is a crucial part of the defense again. If the speculation about being on the roster bubble got to him, however, he wasn’t showing any of that Tuesday, following the second full-squad practice of the spring.
“There’s always going to be speculation. Especially with Shaq and myself, similar roles, similar body types,” Manny Lawson said. “My mentality is I’m still willing to do whatever and play wherever the team needs me to play.”