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Carl Lawson: Where's The Love?

Only a month ago, Carl Lawson was a first-round darling and apparently out of the Steelers' grasp. What's happened to the love?

What I'll miss most about Lawrence Timmons isn't his sunny and friendly "Hi, glad to meet you" every time I asked him for an interview, or his 70-yard passing shows at the end of every minicamp. 

No, I'll miss his asskicking-ness.

For lack of a better term.

He was the show at training camp, particularly under the spotlight. Mike Tomlin loved to show off his explosive toy whenever the guests showed up, like when the pack of reporters perfunctorily scurried over for the backs-on-backers drills that officially mark the opening of live contact football season, or when the mob of fans turned up in downtown Latrobe for "Friday Night Lights."

Tomlin loved to call on Timmons for some real pad-popping, just as he did with LaMarr Woodley and on offense David Johnson. Those were the three that stood out in my mind as the real asskickers at practice over the last 10 years.

Woodley left first, while Johnson left and returned but in a role similar to that of Timmons: They were spared any unnecessary contact in order to be used better on game day. But, man, back in the day Tomlin would use Timmons to set a tone. He would sic "Law Dawg" on poor fodder such as Dezmond Sherrod, who ended up in a neck brace after one particularly chaotic "Lights" session.

That was in the 2008 training camp. Timmons had hardly played the previous year, but the next morning, after the "Lights" practice had concluded Timmons' first week of his second camp, the buzz among reporters was strong. Tomlin, though, tried to temper our enthusiasm by telling one of the reporters, "Don't give him the Golden **** Award just yet."

Some of you coaches in the audience may be familiar with that uproarious and vulgar cliche, and that was Tomlin's way of saying that Timmons still wasn't ready. 

And that championship season, Timmons started only two games in place of Larry Foote, which meant that Tomlin's first draft pick, his "first son," as teammates came to call Timmons, had started only two games since being chosen 14th overall two seasons prior.

No matter how explosive Timmons was in practice, and how excited all of us "visitors" were about hearing those pads pop, a championship team needed a fast-working mind at one of the defense's most intricate positions.

That, dear readers who've followed me this far without a point yet, is the reason I don't see the Steelers drafting a quality and explosive asskicker such as Jarrad Davis in the first round of this coming draft.

It would seem to make sense. Timmons has left, and the Steelers -- in spite of protestations otherwise -- don't think enough of Vince Williams to have dissuaded themselves from throwing big money at free agent Dont'a Hightower.

Hightower turned them down, so wouldn't it seem logical for Tomlin to find the replacement for his "first son" in the first round of a draft exactly 10 years later?

Not if it takes two years to replace Williams, a team leader who's more explosive than was Foote, with similar foot speed, but who probably isn't as cagey as Foote was. 

Regardless of being a question mark in coverage, Williams has his strengths as a replacement and leader, he pops pads as well, and he does understand the defense.

But this team still needs another asskicker. Bud Dupree will probably be that exciting camp toy this year. Two years ago he was a lost rookie and last year he was injured. This is the year he no doubt blows stuff up as he bids on that breakout campaign.

The proposition has been put forth that the next incoming 'kicker play opposite from Dupree, and learn from the venerable one, James Harrison. And my suggestion -- as well as colleague Jon Ledyard's and a host of other Pittsburgh reporters -- has been to draft Carl Lawson.

A month ago, at the NFL Combine, I was put in touch with a reputed edge-rushing expert who was also an expert on the Dallas Cowboys, a team that's drafting two spots ahead of the Steelers and needs an edge-rusher. 

I was doing a story on Steelers candidates for that edge spot, and he, John Owning, didn't bat an eyelash when he said he thought the Cowboys would take Lawson.

That thinking has changed.

Owning, the contect director for FanRag, tweeted his five-deep list of edge-rushers that "DAL would actually consider at 28." Owning listed, in order, T.J. Watt, Derek Barnett, Charles Harris, Taco Charlton, and Takk McKinley.

I wrote to John that I thought he liked Lawson.

"I love Carl," Owning replied. "But I don't think DAL does."

There must've been a news leak, because Bryan Broaddus, a former Cowboys scout with his finger on the pulse of the organization, who also had been touting Lawson over Harris, suddenly flipped and began tweeting that the Cowboys might be more interested in Harris. So I shot Broaddus a message asking why Lawson seems to be sinking in expert estimation.

"Not sinking in my eyes," Broaddus wrote back.

Lawson seems to be shrinking everywhere else. He wasn't listed in Matt Miller's most recent Top 50. Rob Rang of CBS Sports ranks Lawson 54th. The NFL Draft Bible's mock draft yesterday didn't include Lawson among its 40 picks, and this from a guy who had Lawson going 19th in January.

One of the analysts from Draft Bible, Justin Gammel, tweeted 10 days ago that "Carl Lawson could slip to late round 2, even early 3, but he's going to come in and straight up eat."

The rankings are low, but the analysis still seems high. 

Here's what Owning wrote on March 13: "Lawson’s explosive get off, active hands and deliberate footwork make him the best pure pass-rusher in this class."

I see a very good pass-rusher myself: hands, feet, strength, burst. His knocks are that he's been injury prone, has short arms, is a bit stiff and doesn't make many tackles. Sounded a lot like Tomlin's second son, Woodley, when he came out in 2007. And their coming-out numbers are, in fact, similar.

Lawson: 6-1.6, 261, 4.67/1.60, 35 reps, 33 vj, 9-6 bj, 4.19 shuttle.

Woodley: 6-1.4, 266, 4.74/1.65, 29 reps, 38.5 vj, 9-9 bj, 4.42 shuttle.

Very similar, much like their production.

Lawson: 30 tackles and 9.5 sacks in 12 games his final season; 67 tackles and 14.5 sacks in 30 career games.

Woodley: 36 tackles and 12 sacks in 13 games his final season; 84 tackles and 18 sacks in in 37 career games.

Woodley was the 46th pick of the 2007 draft, and the way things are shaking out that appears to be Lawson's destiny. 

One of my favorite analysts and a friend of this site, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, wrote the following in summing up Lawson:

"Linear player with natural power and aggressiveness, but a lack of flexibility could hamper his potential as an NFL rusher. Lawson's twitch shows up in short, controlled bursts, but he struggles to finish if the play isn't right in front of him. Lawson's ruffneck demeanor will appeal to teams looking for an aggressive edge-setter along a physical front, but his draft grade could vary quite a bit from team to team."

A roughneck asskicker. The Steelers need one of them on the field and I need one to enjoy watching at practice. 

And what does another of our favorite analysts and friend of this site, Mike Tomlin, have to say?

"I need you to rush the passer," was what Tomlin told Lawson at the Auburn pro day.

That he does. 

But does he do it at 30? Or trade up about 16 spots in the second round?

Stay tuned. The story's just getting good.

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