On the verge of a breakout season after a fine start in 2007, Lawson's second year with the team was abruptly cut short after two games when he tore a knee ligament in practice. His dynamic presence at outside linebacker was sorely missed the remainder of the season as the 49ers sagged to a 5-11 finish after a 2-0 start.
Lawson had a difficult time watching from the sidelines as his teammates struggled without him to a fifth consecutive losing season -- a franchise record. A first-round draft pick in 2006, Lawson is one of the top young talents brought in by the 49ers over recent years in hopes of reversing the team's losing ways.
The knee injury now behind him, Lawson is eager to get back to his rise as a budding impact defender.
The 49ers finally unleashed Lawson during training camp after holding him out of spring drills as a precaution. Monday's morning session was the first time he has been in pads since he was injured last September.
"Words cannot describe how good I feel to be back there on the field," Lawson said. "Right now, I feel re-energized. My body is readjusting to football again. I'm getting my wind back, I'm getting fluid out there, so now I'm starting to feel like my old self again, if not better."
After a promising rookie season during which he started 11 games, made 65 tackles and had 2.5 sacks and three takeaways, Lawson made plays all over the field last year for a San Francisco defense that keyed the team's 2-0 start.
The 49ers had a difficult time the remainder of the season making up for the lost athleticism and all-purpose threat that Lawson brought. He was immediately inserted back in his starting slot at strong-side linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 defensive scheme once summer camp began last week.
"He's looking good," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "I don't think he's 100 percent, but he's doing well. With Manny, it would be more of a stamina question than anything else right now. He's going to be fine."
Lawson is working on the stamina issue by staying late after practices for an extra sprint session. Taking off the cumbersome knee brace he must wear until doctors give him clearance to practice and play without it, Lawson just feels fortunate to be able to go unhindered at full speed again.
"Lost time is going to be lost time. It's always in the past," Lawson said of his and the team's 2007 disappointments. "So you never focus on the past, you just go forward. So that's what I'm doing. I'm running to better myself for the future."