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Slimmed-down Shaq Lawson wreaking havoc early in training camp for Bills

PITTSFORD -- Maybe Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley just thought they were smarter than everyone else.

What other explanation could there be for why the Buffalo Bills' former head coach and general manager invested a first-round draft pick in Shaq Lawson last year only to change his position?

"Yeah, that was kind of odd," Lawson said after the Bills wrapped up their third practice of training camp at St. John Fisher College. "It really was. I knew I wasn't a fit for that defense. They thought I was. I just tried it out. I wasn't very comfortable."

Thankfully for Lawson, his time at outside linebacker is over. That experiment ended when Sean McDermott took over for Ryan as coach and announced the Bills would be moving back to a 4-3 scheme, with Lawson as one of the defensive ends opposite Jerry Hughes.

"This year I'm just so excited, because this is something I do," Lawson said. "This is what we did at Clemson, same scheme, same everything."

Lawson certainly looks at home through three practices, including the first session with pads Saturday morning.

"This year is easier," he said. I'm "understanding" it more "and there's only one thing to do -- play attack."

That's what he's done, along with Hughes.

"With respect to Shaq, I think he’s done a phenomenal job," McDermott said. "You wish he had all of last season under his belt. He has the injury there and the challenge, but the way he’s attacked that, the way he’s attacked the offseason and I like what he and Jerry are doing on the opposite sides of each other.

"They’re coming off the ball well, they’re aggressive. With the system, he’s getting a feel for the system and those two are fun to watch. Those guys are coming off the ball with a lot of twitch and when you can do that up front, that sets the tone for everything else behind it."

With Hughes and Lawson on the edges and Kyle Williams joined by Marcell Dareus in the middle, the Bills' defensive line has looked as as advertised this summer.

"We're all going to feed off each other," Lawson said. "We're all going to make plays together. With Kyle and Marcell in there, me and Jerry's job should be easy. They're going to hold it down in the middle, we set the edge and just have fun doing it."

Lawson is noticeably leaner this year, and said he weighs "about 267-268. That's my range." He played last year at 275 pounds, and during his last year at Clemson was as much as 285.

"I actually lost a lot of fat and put a lot of muscle on," he said. "Better weight."

Shoulder surgery in May 2016 limited Lawson to mental reps at this time a year ago. Add in that he was having an admittedly tough time learning Ryan's scheme and it's easy to understand his so-so production as a rookie. After missing the first six games of the season, he returned to play in the final 10, but made just one start and had just 13 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble.

"When the team was out here practicing, I was in there rehabbing," Lawson said. "Didn't see no part of football. ... It's pretty much my first rodeo in training camp.

Missing as much time as he did as a rookie, particularly at camp, wasn't easy for Lawson.

"It made me appreciate my opportunity a lot," he said. "When you can't be out there with your brothers, they out here grinding every day, and that's the whole point about football is the relationship, you grinding with somebody that you love. ... I had to wait my turn."

Now that it's arrived, Lawson is trying to make the most of it. One of the ways he's doing that is by developing a wider array of pass-rush moves. He's used a spin move to free himself from offensive linemen on a few occasions during practice the past couple days.

"That was my go-to in college," Lawson said. "I just really got back to it and started with it this offseason. I feel a lot more comfortable doing it so I had to try it out today and I actually tried it out yesterday in team. I feel like I’ve got the spin move back but other than that, it’s just basically me working on" other moves" this offseason, working on my pass rush and adding more to my game."

"In college, one move will work. You've got to have a back-up plan" in the NFL "if you get stuck on one move. That's been the thing I've been working on this offseason. ... I feel more comfortable and the defense is easier, so it's making me open up my game."

 

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