PITTSFORD — Manny Lawson admits it took some getting used to. He wasn't prepared for the speed of things. He had no idea what it was like to have another person dictate your every move.
Of course, that's generally how it goes for a first-time father.
“It's eye-opening,” Lawson said Monday morning at St. John Fisher. “I never knew somebody so small could control a grown man, by his subtle movements or a sound that changes your life.”
Lawson's life changed forever three months ago, when his son, Kai, came into the world. Lawson, who had signed with the Bills as a free agent in March, missed the early minicamps to help his wife, Stephanie, at their home in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“He's in Arizona right now,” said Lawson, who is listed as an outside linebacker. “But he'll be up here once we get settled. It's tough. The thing is, technology nowadays is great. I get face time every day. That's cool. But I'm missing that smell, and I miss holding him. Even a diaper every once in awhile isn't that bad.”
The Bills felt it was important for Lawson to spend time with his family after Kai was born. There was no point in him going through the motions of a minicamp if his thoughts were back home with his wife and newborn baby.
But once Lawson arrived for training camp, he was all business. This will be his eighth season in the NFL. He turned 29 early this month. He's new to the Bills, but he is one of the most experienced members of the team, and one of the few who have appeared in an NFL playoff game.
Lawson is a bright and affable guy who scored 43 on the Wunderlic intelligence test at the NFL combine after his college days at North Carolina State. As a veteran, he says he can teach a few things to the younger guys. Such as?
“That you need to stay focused,” Lawson said. “Granted, you have your family, and family will always be family. But this is your livelihood. And if you don't take care of yourself and take care of your body, there's no way you can take care of them. So focus on your job here and get things done here.”
Things are moving fast here, too. Under Mike Pettine, the Bills' defense plans to be quick and unpredictable, like a precocious toddler. They intend to be the ones dictating to opposing offenses.
“It depends on how the game is going,” said Lawson. “But initially, yeah, we're going to attack. We're going to attack from here and there and from the middle, any which way we can. But we're also going to be smart about it. We're going to know when to attack and when to sit back a little bit.”
It's unclear what Lawson's precise role will be. Pettine hasn't said whether he'll play a 3-4 or 4-3. But the Bills are expected to play a base 3-4, with Lawson operating as an outside linebacker. He could also play defensive end.
“It doesn't matter,” he said. “I see myself as both. I've played 'em both, I love 'em both. I love the contact and I love this game. I'll play whichever position they put me out there. Don't be surprised if you see me playing safety, either!”
Last year with the Bengals, Lawson played just 34 percent of the defensive snaps. He played strong-side linebacker until the Dolphins torched him in pass coverage in Week 5. Lawson's playing time plummeted. He didn't start in Cincinnati's playoff loss to the Texans.
Lawson finished the 2012 season with just 29 tackles and two sacks. His tackle numbers have decreased in each of the last three seasons. He has 18 career sacks and two interceptions, very pedestrian numbers.
Versatility is Lawson's major asset, but he's not especially gifted in any single area. He's suspect dropping into coverage. He doesn't get a lot of sacks. It sounds like Bills' fans former whipping boy – Chris Kelsay.
Lawson, who is 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, was drafted by the Niners with the 22nd overall pick of the 2006 draft. Three North Carolina State defensive players went in the first round that year. All three found their way to Buffalo. Mario Williams went first. The Bills moved up to take John McCargo at No. 26.
At any rate, Lawson has a lot to prove this season, regardless of how he's used. The Niners let him walk three years ago and got better when Ahmad Brooks replaced him. The Bengals decided that James Harrison, a fading star at 35, would be an upgrade for their defense.
The Bills gave Lawson a four-year, $12 million deal in free agency. There were people rolling their eyes in Cincinnati at that contract.
“Something to prove? I think I have something to add here,” Lawson said. “Being a veteran in the league, some of my skills and talents, some of the things I've seen. Especially the young guys, I can teach them something. Then making plays. I enjoy making plays, and that's what I'm going to do.”
There are certainly people who believe you have something to prove, Lawson was told.
“That's all right,” he said. “I have a lot of things to prove to myself. Whatever they say is what they say, but I'm still around.”