One of the biggest defensive performers in Bengals training camp thus far has been rookie linebacker P.J. Dawson.
Drafted in the third round out of TCU in this year's NFL draft, Dawson was widely viewed as one of the best backer prospects and someone who could be drafted toward the end of Round 1. Unfortunately, character and work-ethic issues led to his draft-day slide but, fortunately that led to Cincinnati grabbing him with the final pick of the third round.
His performance in training camp thus far is serving as a reminder why some viewed him as a big-time prospect this year, and why the Bengals got maybe the biggest steal of the draft in Dawson.
In this highlight, Dawson has back-to-back good plays. On the first play, Dawson reads the run well and meets the running back right at the line of scrimmage. On the ensuing play, Dawson drops back into coverage and reads Eli Manning's eyes very well to take him to where the ball is going before stretching his hand out just enough to deflect the pass that Josh Shaw picks off.
During Saturday's mock game, Dawson showed he's a capable pass-rusher as well. On this play, Dawson shoots the C gap right past Tanner Hawkinson for what would be a sack, though the play was allowed to continue before AJ McCarron threw a pick-six to Derron Smith.
On this play, Dawson reads a delay screen well and makes sure he's in position to sniff it out:
Nice first step by Devon Still. Pat Sims and PJ Dawson smother the delayed screen https://t.co/0UdKIdMIMl— Brennen Warner (@BrennenWarner) August 4, 2015
On this final play, Dawson's pass-rushing force is once again on display. Dawson reads the play beautifully and shoots the gap right into the QB as he's handing it off.
It looks like Dawson lets up a bit to keep from actually hitting QB Josh Johnson in this drill. Had it been a live game, it looks like Dawson would have taken Johnson straight to the ground before he even completed his drop back. It was clear, however, once James Wilder Jr. got a good block on him, Dawson still has some work to do on shedding blocks.
Still, it's becoming more and more clear Dawson has a ton of upside and potential to be one of the Bengals' best linebackers, perhaps even as a rookie. It will be hard though unseating veterans like Vinny Rey, Rey Maualuga and A.J. Hawk for one of their spots, not to mention Vontaze Burfict having a starting spot locked up whenever he gets back.
Dawson could be a player this year who's greatest promise is shown in camp and the preseason games, but then has to sit, watch and learn in the regular season behind several veterans, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Whatever happens, it's clear Dawson has a bright future in the NFL if he is able to fulfill his potential.
Be sure to check out our own Brennen Warner's highlights of Bengals training camp, which were used to make this piece.