The right end of the Buffalo Bills’ defensive line is secured by Jerry Hughes, but there’s a healthy battle ensuing on the left side between former first-round pick Shaq Lawson and fresh free agent acquisition Trent Murphy. After four days of training camp, Murphy has gained ground on Lawson, which is raising questions about his tenure in Buffalo.
Before Sunday’s practice, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier addressed the media for the first time at training camp. The battle between Lawson and Murphy at LE was among the topics discussed.
“We signed Trent; he was one of our big free agent acquisitions, and we’re excited about watching him perform and seeing how he progresses,” said Frazier. “The rotation is fluid. Trent is our starter right now and he’s doing a really good job for us.
“Watching Shaq, he’s making progress, but we’ll see how things go. You want to always put the best 11 out there, but for the time being, Trent is our number one at left end.”
Losing the starting spot this early into camp isn’t ideal for Lawson. That’s especially considering he occupied that role for a majority of last season, starting in 10 of 11 games played. The 19th overall pick from the 2016 NFL Draft failed to record a full regular season in 2017, as his campaign was cut short in December due to an ankle injury.
Even though he missed more than a month of football, Lawson still managed to tally a team-high in sacks with four. Sure, the Bills were underwhelming in that category last season, ranking 29th in the league with 27 total sacks, but Lawson still missed a significant amount of time and managed to get to the quarterback as much as any other Bills defensive player.
Lawson has flashed the skills throughout his first two years that made him a first-round pick. The biggest thing is staying healthy and putting it all together. Last season wasn’t his only injury-plagued year. Flashback to 2016, Lawson’s rookie season. He didn’t make his NFL debut until late October, as he was recovering from an offseason shoulder surgery. That year, he went on to play in 10 games (one start), recording seven tackles, two sacks, and one forced fumble.
At the end of the day, Lawson has secured six sacks in 21 career games played. That’s not terrible, but the Bills surely want their former first-rounder to get after the quarterback more regularly.
With all the offseason acquisitions, the Bills should see an increase in QB pressures. The question is whether Lawson will be a part of them.
A lot of fans are fed up with Lawson and his inability to put together a full season. Something that’s working in the third-year player’s favor, though, is his youth. At just 24, if Lawson can piece together a full season, he has the potential to approach double-digit sack totals. Last season was evidence of that.
“Shaq is so young. To say this would be a ‘make-or-break’ year it would be hard to do. I think his best football is ahead of him, he just needs to stay healthy and keep improving,” said Frazier. “He came in great shape, he’s off to a great start in camp, and much too young, too soon, to say this is a ‘make or break’ year for Shaq Lawson in my mind.”