01/27/06 — Senior Bowl -- EW grad/NCSU standout Manny Lawson awaits Senior Bowl

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Senior Bowl -- EW grad/NCSU standout Manny Lawson awaits Senior Bowl

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on January 27, 2006 2:20 PM

Despite being named first-team All-ACC and putting up numbers most defensive players would only dream about, N.C. State defensive end Manny Lawson admits his senior season was full of "ups and downs."

Sure, he's disappointed with the low points.

Many, including himself, thought in the preseason that this was a State team with the potential and talent to contend for a conference title and a BCS game.

After starting the season just 2-4, those lofty aspirations were dashed by the middle of the fall.

Lawson, however, takes pride in helping his team finish in much more impressive fashion.

The Pack won five-of-six to close the season, and held their final three opponents to a combined 17 points -- including a 14-0 shutout win over USF in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte. In his finale, Lawson finished with five solo tackles, one tackle for a loss and one interception.

"It didn't go as well as we wanted. Honestly, I wanted to see either Texas or USC in the national championship," said Lawson, an Eastern Wayne graduate. "But people didn't think we would make a bowl game, so to make it, then win and shut a team out, means more than words can say."

Lawson (6-foot-6, 245) finished with 70 tackles in 11 games, good for fourth-best on the team, with 52 unassisted stops and 18 assists. He posted 10 sacks and 21 quarterback-pressures as he and fellow defensive end, Mario Williams, also All-ACC, combined for 23 sacks as one of the more feared end-combos in the nation.

He added one more blocked punt as a senior -- finishing with a school-record seven punt blocks over his career.

Obviously, the NFL scouts have taken notice.

Lawson, an industrial engineering major, was invited to play in the 2006 Senior Bowl, which will take place Saturday in Mobile, Alabama. According to the Senior Bowl's Web site, more than 700 general managers, head coaches, assistant coaches, scouts and other front office personnel from the 32 NFL teams will attend the event to scout players in what many consider football's premier pre-draft event.

Lawson will play on the Senior Bowl South team, as will his former Pack teammates, defensive back Marcus Hudson and tight end T.J. Williams.

Before reporting to Mobile last weekend, Lawson has spent time working out with Brett Fischer, a professional trainer in Arizona, and getting some tips from former Florida State standout defensive end Andre Wadsworth.

"It's an honor beyond all means to play in the Senior Bowl. I'm just trying to get back in the feel of things ... perfecting technique, staying conditioned," Lawson said.

Save the first several picks, handicapping the NFL draft is hardly an exact science.

However, it seems almost certain that Lawson is destined to go in the first two or three rounds, according to most draft experts. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., the most widely-known draft "guru," has Lawson ranked as the fifth-best defensive end in the draft behind Lawson's former teammate, Williams, Tamba Hali (Penn State), Mathias Kiwanuka (Boston College) and Kamerion Wimbley (Florida State).

Much like the NFL coaches and executives, Kiper states on his Web site that his evaluations may change after the Senior Bowl.

"I'm excited. I'm not the No. 1 defensive end, so now it comes down to the combines and the Senior Bowl," Lawson said. "It's showtime. I have to showcase my talent and position myself among those highly rated players."

Many draft experts feel that Lawson, who runs right around a 4.5, 40-yard dash, may be better suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme, instead of a defensive end. The position switch might give him a better chance to use his athleticism, instead of getting caught up in the trenches.

He's not opposed to the move.

"I'm not new to dropping back into coverage and covering tight ends. I did some of that even as a defensive end," he said. "I think it will play a huge role in my draft status. To have a guy who is versatile, you can come out with four linebackers and three defensive linemen. You don't have to change personnel. It confuses the offense, because they don't know if the defense is in a 3-4 or 4-3.

"My position is, 'put me where you want me to play.'"