With the college season officially over and the NFL Draft not far in the distance, those making the transition from amateur to professional football will be in the spotlight, including several former Bulldogs who just finished their senior campaigns.
One of those, Cam Lawrence, was kind enough to take a few minutes and chat with me after playing in the Raycom Classic on Saturday, one of several former Dawgs representing Mississippi State in an All-Star game.
Not just good at tackling, the Coldwater, Miss., native is good at talking, too, so here’s our question and answer session on his game, MSU, the NFL and plenty more.
Congratulations on a great game. You had seven tackles, a forced fumble, a pass break up. Heckuva game.
Absolutely. I kind of went out there with the mindset to set myself apart. Try to make some plays and get noticed and I feel like I had a pretty solid day with some limited reps. We have five or six linebackers we’re rotating in our out. When I got in there, I tried to make use of every opportunity that I got and make plays every chance that comes my way.
You mention getting noticed and, obviously, the interaction with scouts throughout the week is a big part of what you’re doing.
There were several scouts. I was really impressed with the showcase that all the Raycom guys put on. There’s no telling how many scouts rolled through. I personally sat down and met with probably 16 or 17 different teams, interviews and what not. It’s a good chance for the teams to kind of sit down with you and get to know you on a more positive basis.
I’ll ask you both the positives and the negatives, starting with the good stuff. What do scouts say you do well and that they like about you?
I guess just my natural instincts. That’s kind of something you’re born with, just a little grit. They like my style. A lot of them say I’m exciting to watch on film. I’m a high-energy guy. I’m gonna play hard, gonna play fast and they really like that about me.
On the flipside, what do they say they’d like to see you work on?
Really, they would just kind of ask me that question. Of course, they’re gonna watch the film and there’s plenty of film out there for them to breakdown. But they’d ask me what I feel like I needed to work on. I could kind of see how I came from being a quarterback and gaining the weight to move down to the trenches, packing on weight. Using your hands to get off blocks, that’s gonna be crucial. Coming in as a 200-pound quarterback, it’s just a little transition.
I can imagine so. In these conversations, are they breaking down defenses, asking about you as a person? What all does it include?
They cover a little bit of everything. They’re gonna ask about your parents, your background, where you grew up, your siblings. Of course, they’re gonna ask about off the field issues, so that’s the good thing about me. I’ve kept my nose clean for my whole career. That’s a good thing, they liked it. Then they just talked about football, trying to figure out your on the field smarts, your knowledge of the game and just really try to get to know you on a more personal level.
Scouts and general managers will say they want guys at positions like yours to be able to contribute on special teams, as well. I would imagine that’s something you’re comfortable with, having done plenty of it early in your career at MSU.
For sure. It’s kind of the same way as earning respect and earning your spot when you come on the college campus. It’s hard for a lot of guys who don’t come in right out of high school and start, especially in the SEC, so the progression of a player is, typically, they come in, start on special teams, the following year work in the rotation at your position, then the last two or three years become a starter. It’s kind of the same way in the NFL. The way I see it, if a team picks me up, I’m gonna do anything and everything I can to make the roster, make the team, earn my respect from the other guys and that’s gonna come a lot through special teams, just as it did at Mississippi State for me. That’s kind of my mentality trying to get onto an NFL team, trying to contribute any way I can. Special teams gives you a great opportunity to do that.
I’m training at a place called Competitive Edge Sports with Coach Chip Smith, actually in Duluth, right outside of Atlanta.
I talked to Chad Bumphis last week and he said he’s really focusing on his speed as he trains. Is there anything in particular you’re working on or just trying to improve the all-around game?
I was down there a week before the All-Star game and it was a lot of position work. They brought in a bunch of ex-players, some current players and coaches. Those guys just worked with us on bag drills, working on your hands, stuff like that. I’m heading back down there and it’ll be a transition into combine training, prepping for the 40, prepping for the ‘L’ drill, all that kind of stuff. Trying to get your bench reps up, working on technique, getting your steps down, being fundamentally sound running the 40.
How much does it help that your brother Addison, long-time starter at right tackle for MSU, just went through this process last year?
He’s kind of been through the ropes and my whole life I’ve been able to ask him, because he’s two years older than me, so he’s kinda led the way for me as he’s been through taking the next step. I’ve kind of followed right behind him. With him going through that process last year, I’ve been aksing him all kind of questions, small things and everything. He knows, he’s been there. It’s helped me a lot.
Speaking of brothers, we’ve got the Harbaughs coaching against each other in the Super Bowl. Did you and Addison ever go against each other?
Yeah, we did all the time. In high school, of course, we played together, but at Mississippi State, I’d be on defense and he’d be on offense. I’d be blitzing off the edge in practice or a scrimmage and he’d have to block me. It was fun competing, something we’ve done our whole life pretty much.
Which of you did the facepaint first?
I guess he started it, I just picked up on it. That goes back to junior high football at Magnolia Heights. It’s been in the family for a while.
Looking at your career at MSU, you had a lot of those fun stats. In addition to tackles, you had a bunch of forced and recovered fumbles, interceptions, pass break-ups, tackles for loss. When new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins spoke, he talked about those things, calling them “Defensive Mayhem.” Did playing under Collins as your linebackers coach for two years help you with those things, and how do you think he’ll do as defensive coordinator.
I can’t say enough good things about Coach Collins. When he came in to Mississippi State, he took my game to a whole new level and I tip my hat to him for that. Greta guy, great coach. I’m excited to see him take over the play-calling as the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. I think it’s gonna be good and I know he likes it. He gets excited about that. The one thing he always harped on was, the measure of a defensive player is how close to he is to the ball at the end of the play. If you can get the ball in your hands, that makes you even more valuable. Those are huge stats. Being able to get the ball back into your offense’s hands. That’s the goal of every defensive player, hunting the ball. I think that’s what Coach Collins means by Defensive Mayhem.
On that note, I’ve said before it would impress me how sometimes you’d be flying around the field so much you’d regularly beat teammates to the ball, even if they were closer. You seem to have a lot of passion on the field.
Football is all about anticipation. You can make up for a lot with speed if you’re mentally anticipating the play. I play with a lot of emotion. I think if you’ve got a guy out there who’s gonna give everything they’ve got, play with emotion, play with heart, it’s hard to beat a guy who’s giving it everything he’s got battling against you. When I stepped on the field, my dad always told me to play like my hair’s on fire. I guess a lot of people would say I did, which might make me look like a fireball with all the hair I’ve got.
Thanks, Bob. In high school, you know I went to a private school, they made us keep our hair cut. I just kind of let it go, long hair, don’t care mentality and just had some fun with it.
Last thing I’ll ask you. With you graduating, you were obviously a big piece of the defense. Who are some of the stars of tomorrow at linebacker, the players we haven’t heard much about?
The guys that have played already, fans have already seen them contribute. But the two freshmen we brought in, I think, are going to be outstanding players. The coaches did a good job of going out and finding them. Richie Brown and Beniquez Brown, both of them are already big kids, athletic, I’m just excited to see them get out on special teams and definitely play a role at the linebacker position. I’m excited next year to watch them play.