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Bills’ Shaq Lawson acknowledges this is ‘make or break year’

July 28, 2018

This is a 2018 photo of Shaq Lawson of the Buffalo Bills NFL football team. This image reflects the Buffalo Bills active roster as of Tuesday, May 8, 2018 when this image was taken. Lawson is acutely aware his days in Buffalo might be numbered if he doesn't start producing. After two largely inconsistent and injury-shortened seasons, Lawson is the first to say he's not come close to meeting the expectations that came after the Bills selected him in the first round of the 2016 draft. (AP Photo)

PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson is acutely aware his days in Buffalo might be numbered if he doesn’t start producing.

After two largely inconsistent and injury-shortened seasons, Lawson is the first to say he’s not come close to meeting the expectations that followed the Bills selecting him in the first round of the 2016 draft.

“Six sacks in two years? I’m a first-round draft pick. And excuse my language, that (stuff) don’t cut it,” he said, using a profanity to emphasize his disappointment following a recent practice at training camp. “This camp’s way important for me. Make or break year. Every day is important for me.”

Lawson then readily agreed with several pre-camp projections listing him as being a prime candidate to be one of the team’s surprise cuts.

“I probably could be,” he said. “Every day I’m coming out here working, trying not to get cut. I’m going every day like my job’s on the line.”

Acknowledging he needs to be better is a start for Lawson.

He’s lost about 10 pounds this offseason, and is now listed at 260, which is the lightest he said he’s been since high school. Aside from eating better, Lawson spent part of the offseason working on his pass-rushing technique with two-time Super Bowl-winning linebacker Pepper Johnson, who also worked as an NFL assistant coach.

Now it’s on Lawson to show what he can do on the field.

“My goal, I need to be double-digits,” he said, referring to his sack totals for this season. “That’s what kind of guy they drafted, a double-digit guy, a change-the-game type of guy. I need to do that ASAP.”

Coach Sean McDermott credited Lawson for reporting to camp in shape, something that wasn’t the case last year, and likes what he’s seen from the player during the first two practice sessions. And yet, McDermott noted Lawson’s role is not secure at a position where he’s competing for a starting job with veteran free-agent addition Trent Murphy.

“Look, I’m not going to hide behind it. There’s a strong competition there between a few guys,” McDermott said. “So it’s time for him to step up.”

Lawson’s NFL career has mostly featured a series of missteps, with his struggles resulting from a combination of performance, circumstance and bad timing.

He was a first-team All-American and led the nation with 25 1/2 tackles for a loss during his junior season at Clemson. His 12 1/2 sacks alone in 2015 were tied for fourth-most during a single season in school history.

The Bills selected Lawson with the 19th pick while knowing he’d eventually require surgery to repair a right shoulder injury that nagged him in college. Lawson had the operation in May and missed all of training camp and the first six games of his rookie season.

He finished with two sacks in 10 games, including one start, while playing outside linebacker — a role he was unaccustomed to at college — in former coach Rex Ryan’s defensive system.

Lawson was hardly much better last year even though he returned to playing his more customary role of defensive end under McDermott. He managed just four sacks and five quarterback hurries in 10 starts before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury in early December.

“No excuses,” Lawson said, referring to injuries and positional changes. “I’ve got to play 17 weeks. That’s my main goal. If I play 17 weeks, it’s going to be a great year for me.”

Lawson stood out during red-zone team drills Saturday. Shaking off two blocks, he penetrated into the backfield and stopped the running back for what would’ve been a loss.

“I’m just ready, and know I’ve got to make an impact,” Lawson said. “I’ve got a lot of people counting on me, a lot of Bills’ fans, coaches. And it’s just time for me to step up.”

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