INDIANAPOLIS — No, the search for a pass rusher didn’t begin here in Indianapolis for Rex Ryan. He’s been on the prowl for months, back to his many stops in Clemson, S.C.
Ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd have seen the Buffalo Bills head coach around campus. Both players play positions of need in Buffalo; both met with the team at the NFL scouting combine.
Ryan hasn’t exactly hid his hand in this poker game, sauntering to the microphone in a Clemson helmet for one news conference last year and referencing the team any chance he gets. His son plays for the team. It’d be no shock if he tapped into the talent pool come April.
“I’ve actually seen him a couple of times at Clemson,” Lawson said, “It’d be great to play with guys like Rex Ryan and Rob Ryan.”
Lawson is a 6-foot-3, 269-pound bull of a pass rusher who relied on raw strength in totaling 60 tackles (25.5 for loss) and 12.5 sacks. Dodd is the 6-foot-5, 277-pound athletic, relentless finisher who had 62 tackles (23.5 for loss) and 12 sacks.
Who fits where? One of the two could be precisely what Buffalo's sagging pass rush needs in the first round. No doubt, Ryan had visions of how Lawson or Dodd could potentially blend into his 3-4 scheme while watching Clemson’s run to the title game last season.
Lawson, all smiles in Indy, is setting the bar high in the pros.
“I would like to be the best player to have ever played the game,” Lawson said. “Hopefully be a Hall of Famer one day when I leave the league. Just be the best I can be. That’s all I can ask for.”
Lawson doesn’t enjoy being pigeonholed as a “power guy” in the pass rush, either, saying he's armed with a spin move and can burn tackles off the edge with speed. Scouts get to see if he’s this fluid through drills this week. In the scouting community, he’s drawn comparisons to Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, a solid run defender who only has five sacks in the pros.
Meanwhile, Dodd lit up Alabama in the national title game for five tackles for loss, including three sacks. Several times, he reminded reporters Friday that he was this good earlier in the season.
What worked for him in the playoffs? He rephrases the question.
“What wasn’t working for them?” he said. “I just did what I did and came hard every play like I did all season. Fortunately, I made some plays. Some big plays. Critical plays.”
The question with Dodd is if he was just a one-year wonder at Clemson. Snaps were few and far between before the 2015 season.
To him, ends should be judged by effort, by finish.
“That’s the guy I was,” Dodd said. “I was always to the ball.”
Above all, both insist they helped each other at Clemson. They enjoyed the tag-team effect Buffalo never did. Whereas Jerry Hughes applied heat from one side, it was usually calm on the other side.
Look back at any great 3-4 defense — Ryan’s peak in New York, back to the Steelers' “Blitzburgh” defenses of the 1990’s — and there were usually two dangerous pass rushers on the field. If an offense tilts its pass protection one direction or chips with a running back, the edge rusher on the other side got home.
“I’d be crazy if I said Shaq didn’t help me and Shaq would be crazy if he said I didn’t help him,” Dodd said. “We applied pressure each play. The goal is to get after the quarterback and we did that a lot.”
Added Lawson, “Oh, man. Dodd, he’d make a play, I’d make a play, we worked together, people comparing us. We’re brothers, we aren’t comparing each other on and off the field, we worked together, we made each other better.”
Like virtually every prospect at the Combine, Dodd was asked at one point which pass rusher he tries to emulate. He chuckled and brought up this year’s Super Bowl MVP, Von Miller. Naturally. Miller was the hero in Denver’s 24-10 triumph over Carolina… but he had DeMarcus Ware on the other side, too.
The Bills must, somehow, find such a 1-2 punch.
So there were the Ryan twins on Friday in throwback jerseys walking to Lucas Oil Stadium. It's on them to hit the bull's eye on a complement to Hughes.
Is it the powerful Lawson? The high-energy Dodd?
One of Clemson’s biggest fans may have to choose.