Former Texas Christian University linebacker P.J. Dawson has been making a name for himself with the Bengals this year before the preseason even ends.
After grabbing Dawson in the third round of this year's NFL draft, the belief was the former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year would spend most of his rookie season sitting and learning behind Rey Maualuga, Emmanuel Lamur, A.J. Hawk, Vincent Rey, and even Vontaze Burfict, when healthy.
However, Burfict now looks like he may open 2015 on the PUP list and miss at least the first six games of the regular season. That and Lamur's hamstring injury in the second week of the preseason led to Dawson getting more snaps in the preseason than he otherwise would have gotten, and he's been taking advantage of his playing time.
That's helped him earn a Pro Football Focus grade of 5.1 through three games, the best of any 4-3 linebacker that has played this preseason This also comes after a good showing in training camp in which Dawson was constantly making plays and making a case for a prominent role in this defense.
As Bengals linebacker coach Matt Burke told the Dayton Daily News, it's Dawson's instincts and football IQ that make him a special player.
"One of the factors with him – and you guys have probably seen it — he makes plays," Burke said. "The kid is an instinctive football player. It’s what we knew going in. He made a couple of plays the other night that some guys will never make, just can’t make."
Dawson's physical and athletic ability aren't too shabby either. That was evident against the Bears on this play when Dawson started to drop back in pass coverage, but kept his eye on Jimmy Clausen and then broke toward him once Clausen tried to scramble out of the pocket, forcing an incomplete pass.
Right after that, Dawson read a screen pass beautifully and laid out the running back before he could even turn around after catching the ball.
As good as Dawson has been, the Bengals want him and expect him to be great if he's stays focused on the task at hand. As he told Jay Morrison:
"(Head coach Marvin Lewis) is being hard on me, making sure I’m getting all the minor details down so I can be ready for the season," Dawson said. "A lot of coaches are telling me I ought to be great in the future. They just tell me to keep working. That’s what I try to do, try to keep my head down and try to keep making plays."
With the way Dawson has played this preseason, you can't blame the Bengals for expecting great things out of him. Hopefully, we see that greatness as early as his rookie year with Cincinnati on the cusp of being a Super Bowl contender.