LSU product Rashard Lawrence brings maturity to Cardinals DL room

May 4, 2020, 12:09 PM | Updated: 1:03 pm

LSU defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence II runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indi...

LSU defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence II runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Rashard Lawrence remembers standing on a podium at State Farm Stadium to end his 2018 season with a Fiesta Bowl win and thinking about returning to LSU for his senior season.

He won the MVP award for that game and had posted 54 tackles (10 for loss) and 4.0 sacks during his junior campaign, the second year leading the LSU Tigers as a captain.

But he knew that 2019 brought a championship opportunity, and like many other NFL prospects on the LSU roster, the defensive tackle returned for his senior season knowing he there’s always room for maturation. He treated it like his first pro season.

The Tigers capitalized on that decision by winning the national title, and so did the Cardinals, who added defensive line depth by taking one of LSU’s best leaders in the fourth round of the 2020 draft.

“I’m not a hootin’, hollering guy. I’m a guy that wants to lead by example,” Lawrence said Monday on a video call. “I want to be first in drills, I want to be first in, last one out. I want to prove to guys in the locker room that I’m a guy who’s dependable, day in and day out. As you grow in that role, you can then start being more vocal and communicating with guys.”

Arizona’s defensive line will be one of the most intriguing positions to watch this offseason.

That group saw complete coaching staff turnover, with defensive line coach Brentson Buckner returning to the Cardinals with a task of developing a revamped a unit around another soft-spoken leader in Corey Peters.

The Cardinals signed tackle Jordan Phillips away from the Buffalo Bills, then drafted Utah’s Leki Fotu and Lawrence in the fourth round of the draft. Include returning rookies like defensive end Zach Allen, and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph with have his pick of versatile big men to move around on the interior of the line.

But the team also added leaders. Fotu was also a team captain in college, but Lawrence had quite the stellar reputation beyond his title.

“I go into LSU, watch some tape, I like him,” Cardinals director of player personnel Quentin Harris said on Thursday’s Big Red Rage. “So I’m talking to the (LSU) pro liaison … ‘He’s the grandfather (of the team). He’s a self-made man. Nothing was given to him, he works his butt off.’

“This is more like an old soul type of captain.”

Joseph’s brother could vouch for Lawrence’s leadership, as well.

Mickey Joseph is LSU’s receivers coach and put in a good word for Lawrence to his brother. That message reached the Cardinals’ decision-makers, who the defensive tackle knew had liked his film.

“Rashard was what a fourth-round pick, OK?” Joseph said last week. “They had, what, (14) guys drafted? They had, what, five in the first round? But if you ask any player on LSU’s team, from Joe Burrow down to (tight end Thaddeus) Moss, all those guys, ‘Which player would you want to go to war with?’ it’s Lawrence.

“He’s been a team captain for three years. That’s hard to do in Baton Rouge with so many alpha males. Everyone in Baton Rouge spoke highly of this guy — he’s a graduate, he’s a 3.4 (GPA) student. He’s a guy we tracked from the combine to the draft.”

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