What will Carl Lawson’s role be in 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 01: Carl Lawson #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals reacts to a play in the first half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Aller /Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 01: Carl Lawson #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals reacts to a play in the first half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Aller /Getty Images) /

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Carl Lawson had a breakout season during his rookie campaign. What will his role be in 2018?

The Cincinnati Bengals have gone through their biggest changes regarding coaching staff and players this offseason since the Marvin Lewis era began. Both sides of the football will have new looks and schemes to them with new coordinators stepping in. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was with the team last year stepping into his role after week two but has put his touch on the playbook this offseason.

New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin comes over from the Detroit Lions to replace former coordinator Paul Guenther. What started as a coordinator coming in and running the same schemes the defense has used the last few years has turned into some significant changes along the defense. Austin looks to change the attitude of the defense and while doing so, add more looks and schemes as well.

One of those changes is expanding linebacker Carl Lawson’s role into more linebacker responsibilities. Lawson was on the field for 42 percent of the defensive snaps last year as an edge rusher in obvious passing situations. Even while playing in less than half of the defensive snaps, Lawson had the second most pressures from an edge rusher on the right side in the league according to Pro Football Focus.

Lawson will still line up as an edge rusher when the Bengals defense is in their nickel packages- where Cincinnati spent a majority of the time in last season. His role will be expanded as a linebacker in base packages on earlier downs allowing him to be on the field for more snaps. Lawson struggled against the run game last season which is a big reason why he saw limited snaps to passing situations.

During earlier downs in the base package, defensive ends like Michael Johnson, Jordan Willis, and rookie Sam Hubbard will see more time at the end position. With Lawson at linebacker in these packages, it gives the Bengals more opportunities to blitz him from different areas of the field and better attack the run game. It also allows more rotational snaps for Willis and Hubbard this season.

Lewis discussed with reporters at the annual league meetings coaches breakfast about his vision for Lawson. Spending time as a defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, Lewis compared the situation to that of Peter Boulware and said Lawson will be in a similar role. Boulware hauled in 52 sacks in five seasons under Lewis including 15.5 sacks in 2001.

"“I think in Teryl’s vision, he sees the opportunity to utilize Carl more in the base defense than what we did with Paul,” Lewis said. “It goes back to where I was in Baltimore. Those are the things we feel good about. That involves Carl’s abilities in the base defense.”"

In his rookie season with limited snaps, Lawson recorded 8.5 sacks which ranked second among the Bengals defense only a half sack behind defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Cincinnati’s new role for Lawson will bring more opportunities from different positions in 2018 which could mean even more sacks this season. Getting after the quarterback more and being more aggressive in general is what Lewis and Austin want to bring to the defense this season.

"“We have to apply pressure, and we have guys who can do that,” Lewis said. “And we have guys on the back end who ought to be able to cover and give us that opportunity. In my opinion, we have to be able to pressure the offense and not let the offense dictate the game.”"

Cincinnati and their division rival the Baltimore Ravens tied for 11th most sacks in 2017 with 41. Given the number of changes that are expected to come in the defense and all the talks of being more aggressive at getting after the quarterback sounds like that wasn’t good enough last season. Cincinnati has the personnel on the defensive side of the ball to generate more pressure in 2018 and given new schemes; it’s entirely possible to break the top ten in sacks.

With all the depth of pass rushers along the defensive line, it makes me wonder if the Bengals are trying to replicate what the Philadelphia Eagles did last season. Consistently rotating guys out keeping them fresh for four quarters proved successful for the Eagles in 2017. Even though the Eagles had fewer sacks than the Bengals last year, they led the league in quarterback pressures with 291.

Pressure is exactly what Lewis and Austin have been talking about making the defense more aggressive. Forcing quarterbacks out of the pocket or throwing before they want to gives the secondary more opportunities to make plays and force turnovers. Expanding Lawson’s role while in the base packages make perfect sense and provide one of their biggest playmakers more time on the field in 2018. I expect big things from Lawson again this season.