Carl Lawson, the former Bengals defensive end who signed with the Jets this offseason, tackles some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: You had 27 sacks as a senior at Milton (Ga.) High School. You must have felt like you were in a zone every game.
Q: Yeah, that was fun, man. That was probably my most free year of football where it’s just like no hesitation and no thinking, and I kind of feel like that’s gonna be like that here in this system. Just go, just go, just go. That was a long time ago that I actually felt like that, so that’s encouraging, but I do feel like that here. There’s no holding me kind of back, it’s kind of unshackled, unchained.
Q: Why do you feel unshackled, unchained here?
A: I think we’re on the same page with about everything and how things should be played, and it perfectly matches my skill-set as a player. That’s kind of why I feel like unchained, unshackled.
Q: If you could sack any quarterback in NFL history, who would it be?
A: Probably [Brett] Favre, ’cause Favre would give you a sack. He gave Michael Strahan a sack. I was a big fan of Favre. He just played the game like a kid. He just had fun with the game, and that’s very rare that you see that, especially in the sport today. He’d probably congratulate me, “but I’m gonna have to get you next play,” something like that, no maliciousness to it.
Q: If you could pick the brain of any pass rusher in NFL history?
A: I would definitely hit Reggie [White] up on his mentality and why he was so dominant. Probably hit up Reggie and Bruce Smith.
Q: How would you describe your mentality on the field?
A: My mentality is to be the best player on the field when you go out there. That’s it. Obviously there’s fear beforehand, but when you step on the field, you gotta be like, “I’m the best. I’m the alpha.” That’s the mentality that you go into each and every game with,
Q: Which current quarterbacks that you haven’t sacked do you want to sack?
A: All of ’em. Any quarterback, really.
Q: Do you have a favorite sack so far?
A: Probably Big Ben [Roethlisberger] last year [during the Bengals’ Week 15 “Monday Night Football” upset]. By far that was my favorite one.
A: That was a long time coming. I hadn’t sacked him my whole time in Cincinnati, and then he used to get the ball out so quick.
Q: How ticked off were you being a fourth-round draft pick in 2017 out of Auburn, and do you still have that chip on your shoulder?
A: I very much have it. I’m a firm believer in tape and your résumé and stuff like that, so I just didn’t think that many people were better than me as players. So yeah, definitely ticks me off, but I’ve always had a chip ’cause I’m competing with myself as always.
Q: A quote a few years ago from you: “I feel like I can be ridiculously good.” What is your definition of “ridiculously good”?
A: My definition of ridiculously good is being able to unlock the potential that I feel I have as a player, and reach the heights as a player that I feel I can reach.
Q: How high can you reach?
A: I feel like the sky’s the limit.
Q: I read that one of your goals is to be a Hall of Fame player.
A: Yeah, I feel like that’s definitely one of those things.
Q: You think you have what it takes in New York to be a Hall of Fame player?
A: I definitely feel like I’ve had the skill set, like a lot of people do, but at the same time, you gotta go out there and prove it.
Q: Being the film junkie that you are, which pass rushers do you study?
A: I’m kind of to the point now where I’m trying to come into my own. There’s a couple around the league that I watch and I have a high respect for, but I’m starting to get to the point where I watch myself more. … I mean, I study everybody, whatever is productive.
Q: You’ve been compared to the 49ers’ Dee Ford. Do you see that comparison?
A: Some aspects of the game, but not necessarily, no. He is more … I’m not gonna say he’s like a finesse rusher, you can see the power as well, but I’m more maybe like a tighter style or rusher, where he maybe uses wider angles. He has better speed and bend than I have, but I feel like I have a little bit more strength and power. We’re twitched up height and body-wide maybe, but I’m maybe like 10, 15 pounds heavier than Dee Ford. As a pass rusher, I honestly feel like I’m unique, compared to everyone really.
Q: You remind me of Markus Golden. Tell me what you think.
A: Maybe. Maybe a little bit. I can see that a little bit.
Q: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
A: I liked watching the Colts, ’cause I used to watch Dwight Freeney and Peyton Manning. I used to love watching Peyton Manning ’cause he scored a touchdown, he’s gonna off on the sideline, and immediately go to his iPad. And I just liked Dwight Freeney — he was like explosive, fast, powerful.
Q: Do you see similarities between you and Freeney?
Q: How good is your spin move?
A: Nowhere near as good as the best spin-move master ever, but I just learned how to do it last year. It’s in my pocket, but it’s not necessarily like the best thing I do.
Q: You bench-pressed 225 pounds 35 times at the Combine. We’re you naturally born strong?
A: There’s not many rushers my size who are as powerful as I am. I don’t know who you would compare me to. I’m just naturally strong. I don’t see anybody really my size or at the edge position that is as strong — I’m definitely top-three in that department as far as strength and speed to power.
Q: How many different ways or moves do you have to beat an offensive tackle?
A: The game in the NFL is all about matchups. I’d probably say five or six different ways, but as I go into a game, I might only be able to use three or those moves against a certain tackle, but three of those moves against another tackle, or four of those moves. It depends on my opponent. Or if mostly I can get a tackle, I can just impose my will and do whatever I want. After this camp, when I get to put it into work, I should be able to win in every way possible.
Q: Describe the feeling when you’re able to impose your will on an offensive lineman.
A: There’s no better feeling in the world, especially for someone like a smaller defensive end. It’s kind of like they’ll look back at you and be like, “Wow, that just happened?” Like, “Yeah, I just did that.” I don’t talk trash, but they know what happened to ’em in the play. They’re gonna watch the film. I’m a smaller guy in height [6-foot-2]. … It’s one of the better feelings in the world.
Q: What is the criticism that bothered you most or you thought was unfair?
A: I don’t know if necessarily anything’s ever bothered me. In anything that somebody tells me, I sit back, and I listen, I take the information and I just saw whether or not it’s good information or not. And most of the time, especially in this society, we got a lot of very weak-minded and I want to say sensitive people I feel like, so they can’t take criticism, whether it’s good or bad. So I sit there and listen and I actually see whether or not there’s some merit to what people are saying. There’s nothing that’s really ever bothered me, I just have to discern whether it’s actually valid criticism or not, and how can I improve on what people are saying? I want to improve on what people are saying.
Q: Weren’t there people who questioned whether you could be a run defender?
A: Maybe. I came from the SEC, I’ve set edges. I’ve never been bad against the run. I don’t see that now. Coming into the league, I’ve actually improved upon being productive in the run, but I’ve never been bad against the run. Kind of coming out of college … I was setting edges and not making tackles, but I was always doing my job because of course I was focused on pass rusher. Last year, I took a jump as far as learning the ins and outs of how to make plays in the run game and things like that. I don’t really know. I mean, if somebody’s criticizing you for something, there’s gotta be some backing to it maybe, you know?
Q: How much should pressure up the middle from Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins and Folorunso Fatukasi help you?
A: When you hunt and rush your quarterback, it’s good to have a great interior line. It’s like chasing a chicken, you don’t want to chase a chicken with one person. … It’s a major benefit when you have guys like that.
Q: What was your initial impression of coach Robert Saleh?
A: He’s fired up, he’s very real and very honest so far, about everything. He really loves the game. He’s really into every aspect of the game, and each and every day he has some type of lesson that he provides to us before we go out here.
Q: And your new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich?
A: He’s fired-up as well. It all starts from the top down.
Q: Zach Wilson?
A: I haven’t really paid attention. Seems like young, humble, coming in to work. I’ve kind of been focusing in on the techniques and what I do, so I’ve been really dialed in. As far as a person, he just seems like he’s dialed in, ready to come in and work and improve.
Q: How do you feel about playing on the New York stage?
A: I played at Auburn where the stadium rumbled and the ground shook beneath my feet. No different, to be honest.
Q: Describe that time you lost two teeth rushing on a sack attempt.
A: It was like fourth-and-10 and Marvin [Lewis] was trying to end the game. I basically ran into the back of somebody’s helmet, and like I watched my teeth like pop out. They’re telling me to come off to get concussion protocol, I’m like, “No, throw the challenge flag, ’cause that’s a sack.” I’m trying to yell at Marvin, but they’re like, “You have to do concussion protocol,” I’m like, “I’m not concussed, I’m just missing teeth, so please challenge the sack.” I didn’t get it back. And it was against Joe Thomas, too. … I was pissed, to say the least.
Q: Who are athletes outside football you respect and admire?
A: Of course everybody respects Kobe [Bryant], Mamba Mentality. Of course you like [Michael] Jordan. Whoever’s at the top of their craft, you sit there and you try to take something from it, no matter who it is. … They don’t feel like they’ve reached their limit.
Q: Three dinner guests?
Q: Just one?
A: Yes, just one.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: I want to say “Troy” — it’s my favorite movie, but the worst ending of all time.
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Christopher Walken.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Uma Thurman.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: I have a lot of favorite meals, but just say breakfast, you can’t mess up breakfast.
Q: What would your message to Jets fans be about Carl Lawson?
A: You’re gonna get one of the hardest workers that you ever got. J-E-T-S, Jets, let’s go.
Q: As we near Father’s Day, what has your father meant to you?
A: My dad and both my parents mean the world to me. It’s a day that you mark down to show appreciation to all the dads on the world, but every day they should be appreciated, especially parents who do a good job of raising their kids, so it means the world to me. He tried to make sure I have a better life than he had, that’s what I’m gonna do for my kids, I want them to be better than me in every aspect. He definitely did his best to try to do that.