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Bengals Training Camp Breakout Players: P.J. Dawson

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Jun 16, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals linebacker P.J. Dawson (47) during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Once upon a time, a rookie linebacker of the Cincinnati Bengals stepped up in a big way when injury struck the linebacking core.  The man who was injured was the late Thomas Howard, and the player replacing him was future All-Pro (2013) Vontaze Burfict.

Jun 16, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals middle linebacker P.J. Dawson (47) looks on during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Ironically it’s now Burfict’s that allows another rookie linebacker the opportunity to shine early in his career. Even more ironically, this linebacker has been labeled as the next Vontaze Burfict given his skill set and playing style.  It may not be a coincident that the Bengals drafted a clone of Burfict in light of his offseason microfracture surgery.

P.J. Dawson has everything one could want in a linebacker.  His instincts for the football are top notch and his playmaking ability is incredible.  This is a player who had 136 tackles (20 for loss), six sacks, two forced fumbles, five pass deflections, four interceptions, and a touchdown for the Horned Frogs in 2014.  The man is simply all over the field.

Yet, P.J. Dawson’s presence doesn’t stop there. He also offers leadership skills that are, of course, similar to Vontaze Burfict.  Dawson is a confident player who is forthcoming with his voice.  This fiery example brings just that to the field, fire.  NFL defenses need that type of presence in order to flourish and Dawson offers that.

This while P.J. Dawson can help other players with helpful pre-snap reads, and an ability to convey this knowledge with superior confidence.  The defense only benefits from this presence, and as long as Burfict is sidelined, the Bengals will be in need of this presence.  Dawson can give the defense that.

We’d be remiss to not take a 360-degree look at the situation, which brings up the topic of P.J.’s Dawson’s competition for the presumed vacated starting spot (while Burfict remains “out”).  The competition around him is vulnerable to be surpassed by P.J. Dawson.  Cincinnati must account for three downs worth of snaps, and the player most suited to do that on his own is Dawson.

Veteran A.J. Hawk is aging and hence, more suited for a reserve, rotational role, which will keep him fresh and effective when on the field.  Rey Maualuga, though a starter, is largely relegated to defending the run, so he will be of little help.  Emmanuel Lamur still offers promise, though his 2014 performance has tempered the expectations of many, and at the very least leaves him vulnerable to being supplanted on the depth chart.  Vincent Rey may be the most capable of stepping in for Burfict (as he did last year), but Dawson has the talent to challenge Rey for (some of) those snaps. After that, there are players such as Marquis Flowers and Jayson DiManche who Dawson most certainly can supplant based on both his talent and draft status.

I expect P.J. Dawson to shine in 2015.  He has the talent, football I.Q., and demeanor to be a starting caliber linebacker in the NFL.  Much of this is also something the Bengals lack when Burfict isn’t on the field, which plays in Dawson’s favor.  Training camp will give fans an interesting look at arguably Cincinnati’s best selection from this year’s draft.  Hold on tight NFL, P.J. Dawson may be coming for you soon.

Next: Defense Wins Championships

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