Carl Lawson doesn't cast himself as some kind of superhero. He does, however, claim an affinity and likeness to a fictional character who has all the moves -- and then some.
Asked on Thursday what he could improve on, the candid and often animated DE signed by the Jets in free agency paused before giving reporters his answer.
"You want the list?" Lawson said. "Things I've seen on film from college to the NFL? I'm able to execute on command. I don't question how did I get my body to do anything. Now I know how I got my body to do that. I'm kind of like Neo in 'The Matrix,' the next move he's just like doing it. That's kind of what I'm getting to as a player."
For some of his teammates and coaches during training camp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, Lawson has been a combination of the Flash and Neo ... quick and unstoppable. His presence, along with Quinnen Williams (expected to return to practice when the Jets travel to Green Bay next week), Folorunso Fatukasi, Sheldon Rankins, John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, Nathan Shepherd and others (including the injured Vinny Curry and Kyle Phillips), has transformed the Jets' defensive line.
"If you watch the [game] tape, he beats everybody, so it's not foreign to him to win," head coach Robert Saleh said earlier this week about Lawson. "What's cool though is his work ethic and the way he goes about his day-to-day process: He is relentless with his body. There's an old saying that hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard, but, this dude, not only is he talented, but he works his absolute butt off. And because of it, you see results."
Lawson played four seasons with Cincinnati. He had 5.5 sacks last season and 20 for his NFL career. Those are not necessarily big numbers for a rampant DE, but he had 32 QB hits last season. He said that his numbers are misleading because of the scheme former Bengals HC Marvin Lewis devised for him often put him at linebacker.
"It was more so a development scheme, a hybrid linebacker/DE," Lawson said. "I was supposed to be a linebacker, nickel back and a pass rusher is what he envisioned for me. But it never unfolded. I was coming off an injury my third year easing back in, and they just wanted me in a certain role. I'm a pro so whatever the organization wants me to do I'm going to do. You get better at football by playing football. Last season I was ecstatic to be able to play. I can improve on those reps and continue to get better.
"I'm not bashing anything I've played before. It's kind of like being unchained, breaking the chains. That's kind of how I feel in this system. It's just being unleashed."
Though Lawson has a solid reputation among his peers in the game, outside observers and fans who look at his statistics are not overly impressed.
Lawson's response: "I have my own expectations. I'm my own hardest critic."
DC Jeff Ulbrich recently said: "I think he's one of those rare guys where he's an exceptional player, but the general public doesn't know him ... yet. The general public is obviously very caught up in sacks, and quarterback disruption, the statistical part of [pass] rushing. He doesn't always check those boxes, but he's been a guy that's got historic win rates.
"I'm blown away. [He's] a student of the game."
For his part, Lawson is energized by his new opportunity, his new teammates and the new scheme.
"There's no indecision," he said. "Now we have to go out and prove it, stop the run first then we can have some fun." He added: "I think this league is about matchups, there are different body types, different tackles, different schemes. I want to be dominant against them all. I have my own plan, and it isn't his [an OT] weakness. I have an arsenal of moves, an arsenal of techniques."
What is clear is that Lawson does not lack confidence, nor should he -- to be successful in any elite sport belief in your own ability is a prerequisite.
One reporter asked him about what has emerged as one of his favorite moves -- using his left arm and his power to bullrush an offensive lineman.
"Yeah, it's leverage and hand placement and angles and just being the strongest," he said without a hint of irony. "Not many people can do it, so I mean. ..."
Neo in "The Matrix"? The Jets will be happy if he's simply the real Carl Lawson, regularly taking up space in the opposition's backfield or stuffing the run.