Cameron Lawrence has been battling hard in a spirited attempt to make the season-opening 53-man roster. And, it's probably a safe bet that his brother's recent fate is hovering in the back of his mind.
Just one year ago, Addison Lawrence, an offensive lineman out of Mississippi State, signed as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. Despite giving a strong effort throughout camp, he was released at the final cuts and is currently out of football.
Now Cameron is walking in those same footsteps, hoping his ending has a different result.
The 6-2, 234-pound linebacker, also a product of Mississippi State, has enjoyed a solid preseason, ranking among team leaders in tackles. And while he is aware of the steep odds he faces in carving out a niche on the Cowboys, he is determined to succeed where his brother could not.
"There has always been a chip on my shoulder," says Lawrence, who posted a team-leading 120 tackles, ranking fourth in the SEC, last season. "I came from a small school, coming out of high school to college, so the way I see it, I'm back in the same kind of situation, just starting from the bottom, trying to work my way up again. And all I needed was an opportunity and luckily, the Dallas Cowboys gave it to me."
After playing together both at Magnolia Heights High School in Mississippi, and then again at Mississippi State, it's likely that Cameron and Addison will never be football teammates again.
"He was with the Ravens, signed on with a free agent deal with them, and then he made it all the way through the cuts and got cut just before the regular season started," Cameron reports. "He's done now. He's married and got a baby on the way and got him a good job there in Birmingham, Alabama. He's managing a Target store, so he's hung up the cleats."
Cameron's chances of sticking at the NFL level are undoubtedly slim, although he has experience playing multiple positions, not to mention special teams, which just might be his first conduit to playing time.
"Actually I came into Mississippi State as a quarterback, but they moved me around," Lawrence says of the MSU coaching staff led by Dan Mullen. "I came in basically as an athlete, and Coach Mullen wanted me to kind of be his [Tim] Tebow triple-option kind of guy, and they just realized kind of quick that I had a defensive mindset, so they moved me over. I came in as quarterback, played receiver, played safety all my freshman year. And then I moved to linebacker my sophomore year.
"I found my home at linebacker. I feel like I was born to play that position."
The move clearly paid off, as Lawrence went on to amass 123 tackles his junior year, finishing second in the entire SEC, while also adding two forced fumbles, two sacks and two interceptions.
As a senior last season, he was named to the All-SEC second team, while contributing four sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries as Mississippi State went 8-5.
"I added some weight me and I came in and started my last two years at linebacker and led the SEC in tackles my last two years, so I was pretty successful there," says Lawrence, whose total of 243 tackles over his final two seasons topped the conference. "I learned a lot being on the offensive side of the ball, kind of learning the offensive mindset. It's helped me a lot playing defense. So I've tried to take a little bit of knowledge from every position that I've played."
After he went unselected during the April draft, Lawrence was highly sought after as a free agent, having to sift through a number of offers before choosing to come to Dallas.
"My agent said 10-12 teams contacted him wanting to sign deals after the draft," says Lawrence. "I grew up a Dallas fan, but as far as depth, and they run a 4-3 [defensive scheme] just like we ran at Mississippi State, so really, it was a good fit for me. My agent and I thought this was the best opportunity for me, so I'm glad to be here."
While he ultimately hopes to make his mark on defense, Lawrence is well aware that his best opportunity to get on the field as a rookie is going to be as part of the third, often overlooked, aspect of the game.
"It's definitely going to be coming on and contributing on special teams," says Lawrence, who compiled 14 special teams tackles his first season at Mississippi State. "My freshman year, coming straight out of high school, I was a special teams phenom, that was my thing. So coming in, I'm going to get on special teams and just keep improving."
That same impressive athleticism that helped him excel at special teams as a freshman in college also steered him to success at other sports in high school.
"I did a little bit of it all," Lawrence says. "I was all-state in baseball, got several state medals in track." [embedded_ad]
He also quarterbacked Magnolia Heights' football squad to a state championship during his sophomore year, an accomplishment he cherishes even more because he shared it with Addison.
"We're one of the only teams to go undefeated and win a state championship at Magnolia Heights," Cameron says. "I was playing quarterback and linebacker, so I was getting to throw passes to my brother, who was at tight end. It was special and we were able to bring a little of that to Mississippi State. He was two years older than me, he was a three-year starter on the offensive line."
As an outstanding student that earned multiple SEC All-Academic honors en route to a degree in business administration, Cameron always seemed like he'd be prepared just fine for life after football. Of course, with Addison's situation more defined now, his success in the classroom looks even more important, but it's still something he hopes he doesn't need for awhile.
"Everyone always told me you need a good backup plan," Lawrence says. "I was All-Academic SEC all four years. I think I finished with a 3.4 GPA, so that's pretty solid. I like football more than I like school, so if I'm making good grades and doing good in school, then that leaves me no choice but to do good on the field. That's how I'd see it. Business just gives me a lot of options; you can do a lot of different things with it.
"I was kind of unsure what I wanted to do if football didn't work out for me, but I plan on football working out for me."
And unlike a lot of undrafted rookie free agents, Lawrence knows better than most how fleeting a chance like this can be.
"It's been a long time coming, a lot has went into this," he says. "Right now, I'm just blessed to come in and have an opportunity trying to earn my stripes, trying to earn my star on the helmet, trying to make my name be known."