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Tomlin Meets With Auburn OLB

Mike Tomlin lost his first linebacker yesterday but is already out on the trail for his next.

Remember that classic NFL Films clip of a young and frustrated Greg Lloyd looking into the eyes of his coach for answers?

"Rush the quarterback," Bill Cowher finally told Lloyd. "You understand? Rush the quarterback."

Some 30 years later, another Pittsburgh Steelers head coach is telling another young 3-4 outside linebacker the same thing.

After Auburn's Carl Lawson tried to impress Mike Tomlin at the Auburn pro day by talking about his coverage skills, Tomlin told Lawson, "I need you to rush the passer." 

"I was like, 'OK,'" Lawson said in finishing the story for reporters. "'That's what I do best.'" 

Tomlin was the only NFL head coach in attendance Friday because he's turning over every stone to find the eventual replacement for James Harrison.

Lloyd, in fact, started this successful run of Steelers blind-side 3-4 edge rushers in the late 1980s. After Lloyd came Joey Porter, who was followed by Harrison. 

The Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones with the 17th pick of the 2013 draft to be Harrison's successor, but it may have been Tomlin's biggest draft-day mistake. Jones had only six sacks in 50 games (35 starts) and has been cast adrift in free agency. The Steelers turned back to Harrison midway through last season and embarked on a nine-game win streak that didn't end until the AFC Championship Game.

The duties of that 3-4 OLB have changed throughout Harrison's reign as that oh-so-important blind-side edge. The Steelers now play a 4-man nickel front approximately 75 percent of the time, and stopping the run while taking on guards and tackles is something the 38-year-old Harrison can handle because of his strength.

Lawson, at 6-1 3/4, 261, is squat, like the 6-0, 265-pound Harrison, and with a position-high 35 reps at the NFL Combine, Lawson also appears to have the requisite strength. 

It's a comparison that fits, but at Lawson's pro day, Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn made another comparison for Lawson.

"Carl is very versatile," Malzahn told Alabama.com. "He's able to fit the odd scheme or the even scheme. Bottom line is he can rush the passer. You look at Dee Ford. I think there were a lot of questions regarding Dee Ford and I think him and Carl have similar skill sets."

Ford came out of Auburn a 6-2, 252-pounder with a 4.59 40 (1.67 10), 29 reps, 35.5 vertical, 7.07 three-cone and 4.73 short shuttle. He was a first-round pick in 2014 and last year had 10 sacks for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Lawson ran a slower 40 (4.67) but with a better 10 (1.60), six more reps, a 33 vertical, a 7.46 3-cone and the second-fastest short-shuttle time, 4.19, among the edge-rushers.

Lawson told reporters after the pro day that "I definitely feel I'm a first-round talent," and one of his highly regarded linemates agrees.

"Everything you see is true," Montravius Adams said at the NFL Combine. "Carl's a great player, extremely hard worker. He comes in and works every day, and every day that he don't need to. He takes his game more seriously than anybody I've ever seen."

Lawson's dedication to the game was tested as a sophomore when he injured his left ACL in the spring and missed the 2014 season. He then missed six games in 2015 with a cracked hip. But he bounced back last season with 9.5 sacks and 14 tackles-for-loss.

He's now a contender for the first round of April's draft, but is running a bit under the radar, if we are to judge him by the small group of reporters who allowed this virtual one-on-one with Lawson at the Combine:

Q: Are you over the injuries?

CL: "Oh yeah. Been over 'em. I played a year and a half injury free. It's been a while."

Q: A cracked hip sounds serious.

CL: "Oh, it sounds serious, but how many weeks did I miss and did I come back and play? That's the question. Sounds serious, but it wasn't that serious."

Q: I see you falling to the Steelers at pick 30. Have you received any interest from them?

CL: "Since I've been a kid I've watched every NFL team and every NFL pass-rusher. It wouldn't be a travesty for me to go there, watch LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison go feast on the quarterback. That Pittsburgh Steelers defense, when they had Kevin Greene back there -- why would you say that? That's not a bad thing."

Q: I didn't mean it in a bad way. I see you as a fit.

CL: "Oh, OK. I would love to play for any NFL team because they're all great organizations. 

Q: Is there one you've liked most growing up?

CL: "I've always loved football. And since I was younger and I first started playing defensive end I was told I couldn't play, so I'm motivated to play for any team I can. It's just a blessing, the opportunity. I know you guys hear that a lot but I would really love to play for any NFL team. "

Q: Why were you told you couldn't play defensive end?

CL: "I'm not going to tell you, but that's my motivation. That's why I get up every morning and get ready to play this game."

Q: Do you see similarities in your game with anyone else?

CL: "Guys who fit my height, weight, explosion, body mold, but I'm not going to sit here and say 'Oh, I'm like this guy.' One of the things that makes me unique is I can do a bunch of different things, like other people, and I have my own things that I add on to that. So, yeah."

Q: Can you provide examples?

CL: "I'm going to name 10 names: Melvin Ingram, LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, Dwight Freeney, Joey Porter, Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Shawne Merriman. All of them.  Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs. All those guys I model my game after that I look up to. That's why I was saying there's no one guy I can equate my game to."

Q: Would you say your body type is similar to that of Markus Golden of the Arizona Cardinals?

CL: "Oh, no, no. You're going to see my body's a little bit different when I take my shirt off. Not that he has a bad body, but, no, I'm not going to say that."

Q: Who is your body type?

CL: "My body type is my own, but I feel like I'm really muscular, really defined, so anybody similar to that."

Q: Montravius Adams said you're the most serious football player he's ever seen. Would you agree?

CL: "Yeah, but Montravius will also tell you I'm the goofiest guy as well. You've got to be able to turn the switch on and off and that's what I do well."

A few questions about the Auburn defense followed before Lawson was asked about a couple of teams -- the New England Patriots and the Steelers -- who might have met with him. 

He said he had sit-down formal interviews with both, but added, "I'm going to stop the questions there because my agent told me not to tell who I'm going to see. That's the only two you're getting out of me."

He's a student of the game, serious as can be, but funny, almost goofy at times. And of course Lawson's strong enough to set the edge. He also understands that his primary role will be to rush the quarterback. 

Tomlin may have lost his first draft pick yesterday, when Lawrence Timmons signed with the Miami Dolphins, but he's obviously searching in the right places for his next.

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