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Draft Spotlight: Clemson coach lauds Shaq Lawson's 'edge' and Kevin Dodd's 'first step'

The same week Rex Ryan vowed the Buffalo Bills' trip to New York to face the Jets was not about him, he wore a Clemson helmet to the podium.

No, it wouldn't be the last time Ryan referenced the Tigers, either. His son plays for the team. He's been on campus several times.

And while Ryan never grilled Marion Hobby on his two stud pass rushers, no doubt he learned all about their games.

"I think he’s been around them enough to watch them practice," said Hobby, the co-defensive coordinator and defensive ends coach at Clemson, "and he got a good sense of what both of them can do.”

The mock drafts grossly overpopulating the web slot Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd anywhere from the Top 10 to the mid-20's of this month's NFL Draft. What we do know is that the Bills could absolutely use an edge rusher opposite Jerry Hughes at No. 19 overall. True, they could use an inside linebacker, a defensive lineman and may be tempted to go quarterback, an edge rusher would likely provide the most immediate impact.

This is a defense that sorely lacked game-changing plays in 2015. More sacks, more forced fumbles, more fear in a quarterback's eyes are a must. Far too often, quarterbacks were comfortable in the pocket.

Could Lawson or Dodd take a sledgehammer to such comfortability? Maybe.

Last season, the 6-foot-3, 269-pound Lawson totaled 60 tackles (25.5 for loss) with 12.5 sacks. Dodd, 6 foot 5, 277 pounds, had 62 tackles (23.5 for loss) and 12 sacks. Hobby lauds Lawson's complete game, the fact that he's just as good vs. the run as he is vs. the pass. Of the two, he's more polished. Hobby admits he tried to convince Dodd to stay in school for his senior season — Dodd still could use development — but Hobby also sees a rare first step in the late bloomer.

Ryan can't afford to miss as the Jets did on multiple high picks during his tenure in New Jersey.

Lawson said at the NFL Combine he wants to "the best player to have ever played the game," and Hobby saw such spirit in him daily.

"His competitive edge comes out when he practices, it comes out in the game," Hobby said. "And he has that natural ability."

Hobby repeats that this is an every-down player. He sees former New York Jets end Shaun Ellis in Lawson --- size with quick twitch. Sure, Ellis finished with 73.5 career sacks, but he was also a heavy anchor against the run who forced traffic inside. Ellis started for Ryan's Jets in 2009 and 2010, too.

In Buffalo, maybe he'd be the versatile, roaming presence Ryan covets. A weapon in 3-4 and 4-3 looks. Hobby insists Lawson takes genuine pride in rushing, dropping, even sliding inside on a "bear" technique.

As for the competitiveness, that was obvious the first day of practice.

"He had gained a little bit of weight and he wasn’t quite ready yet," Hobby said. "But he didn’t have any quit in him. I remember him being tired and still pushing himself.”

"I think he still has a major upside ahead of him. Shaq just turned 21.”

Unlike Lawson, who also starred in 2014, Dodd was a late bloomer. But there was a tantalizing first impression here, too.

"He’s always had that quick first step," Hobby said. "When he was a young guy, he was heavy-handed. He just didn’t have a lot of background in football. But he learned the game and learned the system and he just kept coming on, on and on.

"It’s hard to coach that first step. He’s got that 6-5 frame with those big, heavy hands. Every time he played, even as a back-up, his production was pretty high. He always got extra-effort plays, whether it was 10 snaps, 15 or eight, he always found a way to get to that football. His motor always ran."

After playing two years, Dodd redshirted and added strength that'd eventually pay off — he finished his collegiate career with a sack in five straight games, including mass destruction in the national championship (five tackles for loss, three sacks).

Hobby calls the first step "a gift."

A gift Buffalo's defense was lacking. Opposing quarterbacks relied on quick drops, quick releases, quick... everything to neuter Buffalo's pass rush. The team's sack total free-fell from 54 to 21. No wonder the New York Giants inked Olivier Vernon to a five-year, $85 million contract. He's armed with one of the best first steps in the game, an expert at timing the snap.

At Clemson, Hobby emphasizes the first step daily because he said "the ball's gone" in a blink.

“The guys who time that snap so well, that’s a lot of film study," Hobby said. "If you have that first step like Olivier Vernon has and then you add that hand-eye coordination, man, that’s a plus.”

Then again, Dodd could be a one-year wonder. Moving back to outside linebacker could be an adjustment. And didn't Aaron Maybin have an explosive first step, too? As a coach, Hobby chuckled, "you always say" players need more development.

"I think if he would’ve come back for another year," Hobby said, "he would’ve dominated college football. ... Who’s working with him every day? I know he’s going to put the time in because his work ethic’s really good. His football IQ is good."

Now, the careers of Lawson and Dodd will be linked.

Who falls to 19? Who projects as the better pro? Hobby sees high ceilings for both. Now, it's on Buffalo's scouts to decide.

No question, Ryan will have that Clemson helmet ready.

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