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Bengals’ Paul Dawson May Have Chance to Shine Early

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Feb 21, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Texas Christian linebacker Paul Dawson talks to the media at the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cincinnati Bengals take the field in Oakland on September 13th, they may be doing so without star linebacker Vontaze Burfict.  Undoubtedly the “quarterback” of the defense, Burfict makes plays all over the field and ensures the defense is prepared prior to the snap.

After undergoing offseason microfracture surgery on his knee, there’s the distinct possibility that Vontaze Burfict misses the start of the season, and possibly the first half of the season if he lands on the physically unable to perform (P.U.P.) list.

If Burfict misses the start of the season, the Bengals will need a player to step up and fill the void.  This will most likely be done in a group effort, as no one player likely fills the void entirely.  But Cincinnati has a new linebacker who is built to fill such a role and primarily fill the void left by an ailing Burfict.

Bengals’ rookie linebacker Paul (P.J.) Dawson is built to fill the “quarterback” role and offers the type of skill set that would allow him to theoretically play well in a Burfict-esque role.  Dawson’s lack of combine speed has been well documented, yet when the pads go on he seems to possess the requisite speed to play sideline to sideline.

May 26, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals linebacker P.J. Dawson (47) runs drills during OTAs at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Dawson is a tackling machine who also possesses enough awareness and athleticism to play in coverage.  He is also stout against the run, which will be vital for the Bengals who will face numerous talented running attacks in 2015.  Dawson’s ability to be a three-down linebacker who is a playmaker makes him the type of player who is gifted enough to mitigate the loss of Burfict.

Much of Paul Dawson’s success is based on his great football I.Q.  He has a great feel for the game that allows him to sniff out plays before they happen.  He also is adamant that he is a film rat.  Some critics expressed the concern that Dawson doesn’t possess this type of work ethic, but Dawson disagrees.

"“I’d usually be the last one to leave the facility. I’d be there until midnight. The coaches would leave at like 10. I’d just be in a little room, and they didn’t even know I was there. They’re talking now like I never watched film. How could I not watch film and be that productive? That doesn’t make sense. I stayed, probably watched two hours a night, so that’s about 10 hours extra a week. I put in that work, did what I needed to do, and it all paid off.”"

If Paul Dawson employs this type of work ethic this offseason, he should have little issue learning the Bengals’ defensive scheme, as TCU does similar things defensively to what Cincinnati does according to defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.  If Dawson proves to be as intelligent as advertised, he could also help account for some of Burfict’s “quarterbacking” responsibilities.

Vontaze Burfict’s recovery from offseason surgery is undoubtedly a bad thing for the Bengals.  The silver lining in this situation is similar to the one Burfict found when first doning the black and orange.  When Burfict joined the team he was given the chance to make a significant impact following an injury to the late Thomas Howard.  Now Burfict is in the Howard role while Dawson could find the chance to make a great impact a la Burfict circa 2012.  These are great expectations to place upon a rookie, but based on the confidence that Paul Dawson has displayed this offseason, he may just be up for the challenge and ready to shine come September.

Next: What Will Josh Shaw Look Like on the Field?

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