Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson underwent knee surgery in May in hopes of being back in time for the 2014 regular season. While his progress is impressive, Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn is beginning to start the process of mitigating expectations.
"That's yet to be determined but he is an unbelievable worker," Malzahn told. "He's a physical specimen put together extremely well, so he's very determined and so we'll kinda see where that goes."
Lawson, a rising sophomore, underwent surgery on his left knee on May 1. The full extent of Lawson's diagnosis had not been made public, and Marcello initially reported last month that it was not an ACL tear. However, Malzahn changed course on Monday by indicating the surgery was indeed to repair his ACL.
One of the nation's highest-touted defensive end recruits in 2013, Lawson had 20 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and four sacks as a freshman. He was expected to be the Tigers' primary pass-rushing option after the departure of Dee Ford to the NFL. Coupled with fellow 2013 recruit Montravius Adams and seniors Gabe Wright and LaDarius Lewis, Auburn was expected to have one of the nation's best defensive lines.
Losing Lawson casts a little shadow of doubt into Auburn's defense. The Tigers boasted an explosive, run-oriented offense last season but saw their defense nearly collapse their season on multiple occasions. In their national championship game loss to Florida State, the Seminoles came back from a 21-3 deficit to score a 34-31 win.
Travis Haney of ESPN also weighed in on Lawson's injury:
Losing Carl Lawson for an extended period is infinitely more important for Auburn in big pic than Nick Marshall's minor pot matter.— Travis Haney (@TravHaneyESPN) July 14, 2014
"Carl's a young man that, he's going to work his tail off to get back as quick as he can," defensive line coach Rodney Garner told reporters last month. "It's an opportunity for somebody else to step up."
I just want to watch Carl Lawson play football— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) July 14, 2014
While Malzahn and Garner have kept a cautious stance, those close to Lawson insist he'll play when healthy. Carl Lawson Sr. told Marcello the Auburn pass-rusher is chomping at the bit to get the bad taste out of his mouth from the loss to the Seminoles.
"He definitely wants to play this year and everybody wants to get a chance to right the wrong from that 13 seconds (against Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game), so I think the thing is he wants to be out there contributing and trying to help Auburn win a national title," Lawson Sr. said.
Having goals and accomplishing them are two different things when it comes to knee injuries. It's best not only for Auburn but also Lawson himself to make sure he's 100 percent healthy when he returns. If that means missing the entire 2014 campaign, Malzahn can throw a medical redshirt on him and retain his last three years of eligibility.
With more than a month still remaining before Auburn kicks off its season Aug. 30, it's safe to say we'll get a better idea of Lawson's status in the coming weeks.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.