Carl Lawson cannot so much as reach for a cold drink without thinking about sacking the quarterback.
It’s set up that way by design at Lawson’s home, where a list of goals including an admittedly lofty sack number and specific areas for improvement in his first season with the Jets, hangs on the refrigerator as a way of staying locked in.
“I feel like the sky is the limit,” Lawson said, “but, at the end of the day, this is life. Not every goal you set is going to happen because there are external factors. But I will do everything in my power possible to reach my highest level of potential and what I think I can possibly be, which is something otherworldly.”
Lawson declined to share the specific sack goal, but he totaled 20 in four seasons with the Bengals, including 8.5 as a rookie in 2017 and 5.5 last season before inking a three-year, $45 million free-agent contract. He arrived at voluntary OTAs this week after spending the last two on his own regimen, including a Memorial Day weekend trip to the UFC Training Center in Las Vegas.
“I did jiu jitsu when I was 15, 16 [years old] but they wanted me to quit football,” Lawson said. “That’s why I stopped.”
That form of training helps with a better understanding of body leverage. He missed 13 games combined over the 2018 and 2019 seasons and has overcome two ACL tears dating to Auburn.
“I’m an explosive athlete, but you have to be able to control it,” Lawson said. “Mainly focusing on being strong, stable, durable and available, especially now that we have 17 games.”
Reminded that Floyd Mayweather ($30 million) and Logan Paul ($20 million) both were expecting big pay days off of their recent exhibition bout, Lawson quipped, “I just made a pretty good dime signing with the Jets.”
That he did. And with his $30 million guaranteed comes expectations to be the first Jet to crack double-digit sacks since Muhammad Wilkerson in 2015 and become the first dominant edge-rusher since John Abraham left town in 2006.
“A lot of times edge rushers miss because QBs can step up in the pocket,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “We have so many interior guys, I don’t know how much of a pocket there will be to step up into.”
Teaming Lawson with defensive tackles Quinnen Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi and Sheldon Rankins should be beneficial across the board. The perfect-scenario comparison is coach Robert Saleh’s former 49ers, where adding Dee Ford and Nick Bosa around DeForest Bucker and Arik Armstead elevated the pass rush to Super Bowl heights.
Lawson’s 32 quarterback hurries trailed only 15-sack T.J. Watt last season, so he could be due for a breakthrough like Jet-turned-Giant Leonard Williams experienced when he went from a 3.5 sack-per-season average to 11.5.
“I want the sacks to go up regardless,” Lawson said. “I have the mindset that no matter who is around me I should win my 1-on-1 [matchup]. That’s a great thing to have – great interior players – but the way I think of it is to produce no matter what the situation because what if everybody got hurt? Could I use that as my excuse for [fewer] sacks? No.”
Lawson said learning the Jets defense is “simple and fun because it matches what I do well.” But the repetition of next week’s minicamp will be a better measuring stick than being eased into Thursday’s practice.
“I’m excited, more so to look at my mistakes instead of what I do well,” Lawson said. “I know there are going to be some things I’m not used to, so I’ll be able to analyze and go forward with that.”
It’s not the party line, according to Ulbrich’s description of Lawson.
“Obsessed with the game,” Ulbrich said. “He wants to become the most technical pass-rusher in the league.
While missing from OTAs, Lawson sent workout videos to defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton. The only way to achieve his big-picture goal is day-to-day progress.
“If I was to ever fall short, I would be OK with that because I know I did everything I could possibly do to get myself there,” Lawson said. “Whatever you do in life, I think if you really care about what you are doing, that’s how you should approach it.”
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