Alonzo Lawrence trying to make the jump from community college to the NFL

Posted May 12, 2012

There’s still a small part of Alonzo Lawrence that wonders how different his path to the NFL might have been if he’d stuck it out at Alabama. Lawrence, a safety at Lions rookie mini-camp this weekend, was a former blue-chip prospect out of Mississippi who committed to Alabama, but never made it on the field.

“At Alabama, me and the coach didn’t really see eye-to-eye,” he said. “I came in expecting to start and he wasn’t really playing me, so I wanted to get out before I got too old and go somewhere else and try to start.”

Lawrence redshirted his first year at Alabama but then transferred to Southern Miss. He had to sit out a season at Southern Miss because of transfer rules and then failed a couple classes, which made him ineligible.

“I just hurried up and went to a junior college so I could keep playing,” Lawrence said of his last stop, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

Lawrence says there are times he wonders what it would have been like to be a part of two championship teams at Alabama. He was in the same recruiting class as safety Mark Barron, who was selected seventh overall in this year’s draft by the Buccaneers.

“I look back at the rings and stuff and the fun they were having on TV, but I learned taking the dirt road and it made me grow up a lot,” Lawrence said. “I think the road I took was the right step for me in this situation.”

The Lions signed Lawrence to an undrafted free agent contract following the draft.

“He’s big, he’s got really good speed; like a lot of these guys, he’s trying to learn a lot of stuff in a short period of time,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said of Lawrence. “But he’s got some physical skills that we can work with.”

Like any rookie, Lawrence’s head is spinning right now trying to learn the playbook and adjust to the speed of the game at this level. On top of it all, Lawrence is trying to learn a new position. He was recruited as a cornerback at Alabama and played corner for nearly his entire college career.

“He's played more corner in the past but his size and physical ability probably fits us a little better at safety than it does at corner,” Schwartz said.

“A little less one-on-one. A little more space, a little more covering ground, a little more covering the area and match up. Our safeties will match up against tight ends and some wide out sometimes. It's a little less of a one-on-one position than corner.”

Lawrence views the move as a perfect fit for his size (6-2, 215) and skill set and says it’s actually simplified the game for him.

“You just have to learn the hashes, that’s it,” he said. “It’s easy to cover tight ends. It’s just about angles. It’s 100-percent easier to hold a tight end that runs a 4.8 (40-yard dash) than hold a receiver than runs a 4.3.”

Lawrence might be in for a rude awaking when and if he ever finds himself opposite the Saints' Jimmy Graham or the Packers' Jermichael Finley. He’s oversimplifying the position a bit, but for the most part it is easier from a coverage standpoint.

Lawrence said there were roughly 20 teams that contacted him leading up to the draft and all of them were interested in him as a seventh-round pick or as an undrafted free agent. The Lions were not among those 20 teams. The first contact he ever had with the Lions was after the draft when they called about signing him as an undrafted free agent.

“Playing strong safety in this defense is a good spot,” Lawrence said of why he chose to sign with the Lions. “It gives you a chance to make a lot of plays. It’s the best fit for me coming out of junior college. “I just know they need players in the secondary and that’s pretty much the missing piece from what they had last year.”

Lawrence is right. The Lions are looking for more talent in their secondary, especially at the safety position. They also don’t care if comes from Alabama, Southern Miss, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College or anywhere else.