He suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason that took him out of the running for a starting spot and kept him inactive for the first six games. He made just one start in 10 games, as then-coach Eric Mangini lost trust and went with veterans Floyd Womack and Billy Yates.
Lauvao is back for Year 2, and has a fresh perspective.
“This is night and day compared to last year,” he said. “Just a different philosophy. Coach (Pat) Shurmur’s a great guy, can’t say enough good things about him. Just new attitudes, it’s a good atmosphere.”
Mangini hated losing time to injuries and was slow to warm to rookies. That 1-2 punch made it difficult for Lauvao to gain traction after the injury. After spending a third-round selection — the pick was acquired from the Jets in the Braylon Edwards trade — the front office hoped for an instant impact from Lauvao, but he never got the chance.
“As a rookie you want to prove yourself,” he said. “They brought you in for a reason. It’s not like you want to be hurt and do nothing. It’s like a catch-22. Some coaches, they’ll be a little more lenient and other coaches will kinda just ride you.
“You’re trying to tell your body to do the things, but it doesn’t want to respond. It just becomes bothersome and you get annoyed and frustrated overall.”
Lauvao (6-foot-3, 315 pounds) took a trip to his native Hawaii over the long offseason and spent the rest of the time training in Arizona, where he attended Arizona State.
He spent a lot of time thinking about the year that had gotten away.
“You have a lot of time where you are able just to meditate on things,” he said. “In my mind, I’ve got a vision. With that vision, there’s a purpose tied to it. So from that, I want to master my craft and get some things done this season.”
He’ll have the chance, as he’s locked in as the starting right guard. He’s sandwiched between Pro Bowl center Alex Mack and nine-year veteran right tackle Tony Pashos.
“He’s a natural. He’s a young guy with a lot of tools and I think he’s a very good guard to be playing next to. I’m fortunate,” Pashos said. “He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
“He’s done a real good job fixing his handwork,” Mack said. “In the offseason he must’ve done something because it’s a lot better, it’s more precise, his footwork’s good and he’s learning the offense real quick, which is really a key.”
Lauvao is a contender to make the biggest jump of any Browns player from last season. The opportunity is there, and those around him believe he has the talent. He went head-to-head Friday with Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, rookie of the year in 2010, and Suh didn’t have an impact.
“He did very well,” Shurmur said. “Shawn’s a very consistent, steady player and I think he showed up well Friday night.”
Whether it’s the year under his belt, the absence of Mangini or the new culture cultivated by Shurmur, Lauvao’s heightened comfort level is obvious. He isn’t afraid to sit and talk with reporters and throw in a couple of jokes.
“I’m just happy to be here,” he said. “When I look at Coach Shurmur and I look at a guy in comparison, I almost think like a Tony Dungy type of mentality. He expects you to be professional, but at the same time when he comes into the room, it’s time for work.”
Lauvao is the only unproven commodity on a line considered a team strength, and one of the better units in the league. He doesn’t want to be the weak link.
“Me being a young guy, I definitely want to play that much better because I have these guys around me busting their butts,” he said. “The thought in my mind every day is just trying to master my craft. Always asking some of the vets, asking Coach Hop (offensive line coach George Warhop), what are you looking at when you see different schemes? What’s the thing that’ll make me be the most efficient, be the best that I can be?”
Lauvao is critical when he watches himself on film, constantly picking on the details linemen must master. He’s gotten a stern physical test throughout camp by matching up with No. 1 pick Phil Taylor, a 6-3, 325-pound defensive tackle.
“I would hope at the end of the day I could be a technician, just making sure this guy is pretty sound in what he does, whether it’s run or pass,” Lauvao said.