Shaq Lawson was succinct in summarizing his rookie season.
“It’s been a long year,” the Buffalo Bills’ first-round draft pick said as team members cleaned out their lockers Monday.
It was a year ago that Lawson was playing in the BCS national championship game for Clemson. From there, he turned pro and started preparing for the draft, eventually going 19th overall to the Bills. Less than three weeks later, however, Lawson had shoulder surgery.
“I haven’t had a break,” Lawson said. “I had the injury. Dealing with that -- coming back trying to get back to the flow of playing football and not really having all the reps you had with OTAs and practice and things like that – made the year start off kind of slow.”
Lawson missed all of training camp and the first six games of the season as he recovered. He made his debut in Week Seven against Miami, playing 14 snaps. That number increased to 37 the next week, and Lawson made his first career sack against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. He got another sack the following week on Monday Night Football against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks and looked to be off and running.
He got his first career start in Week 14 against Pittsburgh, taking 46 snaps. But over the final three weeks, Lawson failed to crack 20 snaps in any game.
“It’s not how I expected it would turn out with the injury and stuff,” he said. “I thought I was just going to come back to be that guy who was drafted” in the first round “and it didn’t end that way.”
“My plan was to be rookie of the year and make it to the playoffs but it ain’t go that way. So next year we’ll see how it goes. The goal is to make the playoffs and be the dominant player I was who they drafted.”
The silver lining is that Lawson enters the offseason healthy. He’s been limited in the work that he can do in recent years because of his shoulder.
“Next year is going to be big for me,” Lawson said. With a “full offseason I’m going to get healthy and things like that, so I’ll be ready to come back and ready to go.”
Lawson’s injury gave him somewhat of a pass as a rookie. That will be gone net year. He’ll be expected to contribute like the 19th overall pick in the draft should.
He’ll get the chance to do so in a new defense. Lawson played outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme of former coach Rex Ryan. There is a strong possibility the team goes back to a 4-3 alignment when a new coaching staff takes over. Lawson said he would be more comfortable in a 4-3 scheme, which is what he played before getting to the Bills.
“That would be great,” he said. “I felt great in this scheme, too, that Rex and Rob had, but having my hand in the ground every time, it’s going to be great for me. I can play like more of a D-line thing like what I was doing in college.”