Devaroe Lawrence knows perfectly well that you won’t find many Devaroe Lawrence’s in the NFL.
The undrafted rookie in 2017 joined the New Orleans Saints coming off a torn ACL, then needed another surgery because he said the first procedure left him bone-on-bone.
Before he could launch an NFL career, he was grounded for a year. So Lawrence is nothing short of appreciative for the Saints’ patience.
“Nobody ever really said they’ll wait for me,” he said. “I was rehabbing, and I had to have another surgery, and it was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to get surgery,’ but it’s almost as if they embraced it. They didn’t have to necessarily say it. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words and the fact that they kept me around and allowed me to still rehab..."
“When you’re in the training room, you spend more time here than the players that are practicing because you’re trying to get healthy and you’re trying to get on the field. It felt good to know that they did keep me around and allow me to rehab, and I thank them for it.”
Against Jacksonville in the preseason opener, the defensive tackle showed a few of the reasons why New Orleans was patient.
He was a disruptive force against the Jaguars, with two sacks (for minus-6 yards), three quarterback hits, a tackle for loss and five tackles in the Saints’ 24-20 victory.
“He had a pretty good college resume,” Coach Sean Payton said, explaining New Orleans’ interest. “We felt he was athletic, explosive and we felt like he could recover. In other words, he was battling an injury and we saw traits that are hard to find sometimes for defensive tackles, and it’s hard to find that position, especially after the draft."
“He was a guy that had some production and we kind of liked some of the things we saw. He rehabbed well this offseason, he worked at it and now he’s having a chance to battle out here.”
That’s the welcomed part for Lawrence, who’s 6-foot-2, 294 pounds of fight.
“I come out here with an attitude,” he said. “I'm not gonna just let you bully me or push me around. I’m going to fight you – in between plays, after plays, it doesn’t matter. We’re gonna get it in. I feel like as long as you’ve got the right mindset, then you are ready for this league.”
The right mindset, and the right situation. The kind of place where they’re willing to give you a chance even after a major setback.
“If you’re honest with yourself – I’m sitting around injured and sometimes you’re in a meeting, it’s hard to always take coaching from other players when you’re not on the film,” he said. “You get a little lackadaisical or your mind starts to wander in meetings."
“I learned a lot about myself as far as me wanting to persevere. I’d be lying if I said after that second surgery – I didn’t question my career as a football player after my ACL – but after the second surgery, then I started to think a little bit. I’m like, ‘OK, am I really healthy? Is my knee really going to be OK?’"
“Once I kept rehabbing and I got cleared, it was like, you can’t think about that no more, you’re getting ready to take the field. So it was like, you’ve got to get rid of that quick because if you come out here thinking about it, then you’re going to get hurt again.”
What Lawrence is thinking about now, is joining a talented defensive tackle rotation for the Saints. Showings like the one he had against Jacksonville help, but there’s work to be done.
“Yeah, it’s about making plays but it’s more about being more detailed than anything,” he said. “That’s what our coach coaches us to do, is be detailed. People point out the two sacks, but I jumped offside on third-4, and you can’t do that in this league because it’s a small margin of error that you make in that game that can get you beat. And third-and-4, you can’t do that."
"That’s the difference between making the 53-man, and getting cut. So it’s not about the flash plays, it’s about coming out every day and critiquing my alignments or critiquing my hands or my steps. Just being more detailed in everything I do, the fundamentals of the game.”